"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Still Here (Midwinter)

Soon, I promise - promise myself - I will sit down and write a long update. Two months have passed since my last post, and so much has happened I hardly know where to start. Great changes both on our farm and in the outside world. A few of them good (adios, worst president in history! Hello, personal recovery!) but many of them terrible and dispiriting. 

Meanwhile, here is the new, post-Christmas midwinter altar. Usually this is a dark, rather frightening altar, with my Hecate icon or the storm tree paintings. But this year I don’t want anything gloomy. I swept the altar bare of all the Christmas gewgaws and glitter and place only three items. A silvery money plant, a garland of dried orange slices that Hope made, and my sleepy beast-man. 

The sleepy man is a ceramic figure I found in a thrift store many years ago. I love his gentle face, his whiskers, his strange paws, between which he holds a flower, and the generous mantle he is wrapped in. When I put him on the altar I think of peaceful hibernation, rest and restoration, and sweet dreams. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Samhain Season Altar

I’ve neglected my altar for many moons. Not for any particular reason - life just rushes in and gets in the way. Like everyone else’s, our family has been preoccupied by dealing with life in the Covid era. The new school year has been difficult so far. Distance learning is not going well, and it’s been exceedingly frustrating. We aren’t in lockdown, but there are still strict rules about how many people outside your own household you can see per week and how restaurants can operate and so on and so forth. It’s all exhausting. 

Last week I finally cleaned and purified the altar - and used way too much copal. The whole house filled up with resinous, fragrant smoke. I just used my turkey feather wafter to waft it all around, smudging the house basically, and then opened all the windows and doors wide and let the cool breeze finish the job. 

(Altar tools: the turkey feather fan is for wafting smoke, smudging an area. The pampas grass wand is for doing a limpia of a person - brushing their aura, for lack of a better term)

Except for lining up some squash, however, I left the altar empty. I just wasn’t inspired to decorate it. It wasn’t quite Samhain season, not quite time for the day of the dead altar, and too late to dress it for Mabon. So it stayed empty and clean for a week. 

Today my oldest daughter Rowan was visiting, and Hope asked if we could all dress the altar together. She found an altar cloth (a crocheted shawl I had just given her for her birthday) and we all chose seasonal items to place, either from the yard or from my collection of altar pieces I keep on a shelf in the kitchen. It only took about fifteen minutes and was a really nice group activity. 

The picture of the whole altar doesn’t show details, so here are a few of our seasonal items. Shed antlers, decorated with rose hips. Reminds me of a seasonal crown on Cernunnos, although he isn’t really a deity I have dealings with. 

Pomegranates, of course, are a beautiful and appropriate decoration for an autumn altar. Persephone is sinking into Hades right now, to meet her husband and take on her aspect as queen of the dead. The black corn I brought back from Oaxaca, and is there simply for its beauty. The skull shot glass has apple cider in it, for visitors. And that tattered crocheted animal is a representation of the Black Rabbit of Inlé (What? You haven’t read Watership Down? Go start it right now). 

This altar will probably stay up through the day of the dead, and we will add to it as the day approaches. We will out up photos of our dearly departed, and add flowers and fruits and sweet breads. On the day itself, we will make a big batch of hot cocoa, light a fire, and sit around the altar eating and drinking and telling stories of our ancestors and beloved dead. 

The house feels so much more homey with an altar laid. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Gourd Or Gargoyle?

Every year, somewhere on the property, there will grow a volunteer squash plant. Usually the compost pile, of course. This year, one grew up through some cracks in the concrete pad behind the house that I believe was meant as a place to park an RV. Though the cracks were small, the plant was large, and entirely covered the concrete pad by mid-July. 

Volunteer squash are unpredictable. Their fruit might be anything from boring old round pumpkiny type things to enormous warty colorful gourds like the ones we got this year. The vine grew three of them, each about two feet tall. I gave one to a friend and placed the others as autumn sentinels on our beautiful new porch. 

Last year’s volunteer squash plant, in contrast, produced dozens and dozens of tiny hard shelled pumpkins. They made a cool October altar. 

What most volunteer squash will NOT be is palatable. Grocery store zucchini, crook necks, and other common varieties are all hybrids, and so plants that grow from their seeds will revert back to one of the (usually useless) parent types. However, they are often beautiful. 

And no matter what the fruit is like, all squash plants have delicious blossoms. This year’s volunteer vine provided us with plenty of squash blossoms for tucking into quesadillas or dropping into chicken soup. 

And now it is dying back. I wonder what next year’s volunteer squash plant will look like? 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

It’s Pear Time!

We had a bit of a windstorm a couple days ago, and as usual, it knocked a bunch of pears off the trees. Went out and collected some today - just some - and here’s the result. 

On the left - pears that need to be dealt with NOW or never. Mostly Comice pears - my favorites. They are buttery and delicious and dependably ripen off the tree. There are approximately twenty perfectly ripe pears on that platter, which will be past-perfect tomorrow. 

On the left, a humongous bowl of unripe pears. These blew down off the other two peat trees - I can’t remember their varieties - and every year I am perplexed by their stubborn refusal to ripen. I’ve tried various things - closing them up in a box with some ripe pears or with a banana, and it doesn’t help. I’ve tried putting them in the refrigerator drawer because I have read that some pears won’t ripen without chilling. Nada. They just stay hard like greenish brown rocks until they eventually begin to rot. Someday I will unlock the secret if these pears, but this year I’m going to try cooking them and see what happens. 

But what to do with the ripe pears today? We can probably eat six of them out of hand. Or I could make a pie. Pear pie is delicious. There’s always the dehydrator. Or, of course, pear sauce. But my kids don't usually eat a lot applesauce or pear sauce, and it tends to just sit on the pantry shelf for years. Plus, there’s a severe shortage of canning jars at the moment. 

Maybe I’ll give them away. That’ll probably work! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Preserving Log (Late Summer 2020)

I’ve been on an absolute tear in the kitchen the last two weeks. Late August/early September is the middle harvest season (Mabon is coming right up), the prime harvest season around here. Here’s a list of what I’ve done lately - as far as I can remember. 

Today the girls and I pressed about ten gallons of cider, from the apples you see above. My friend H. down the way has a dozen apple trees and was only too happy to let us pick some. Tomorrow I will bring her some cider. 

Cidering is hard work. Picking the apples, carrying the crates, washing the apples, hauling the press out and cleaning it, bending down and standing up approximately 7000 times, pressing the buckets, pulling the tight-packed plate back out of the buckets, carrying the apple mast to the compost. It’s messy too, with little bits of apples flying everywhere and juice on everything. By the end I was so sweaty and sticky and tired! Working outdoors in this horrible smoke isn’t a lot of fun, either. But this was the first time we’ve pressed cider in a couple years and overall it’s a great experience. 

The smaller of my two carboys, three gallons, will be made into hard cider, and we’re keeping the rest sweet. I threw two gallons into the freezer, which leaves us about six gallons to get through before it turns into tepache. Not that there’s anything wrong with tepache. 

Plums. This in an on-year for the Italian plum tree, and there are hundreds and hundreds of plums. I’ve dehydrated enough to fill a gallon ziploc bag - more plums than you probably think - and the dehydrator is full of plums right now too. 

I’m taking another swing at plum wine. My past efforts have been drinkable, not fantastic.  Probably I won’t get any better unless I buy a little more equipment - like a hydrometer - and start taking recipes more seriously. But hey - there are so many plums. How far wrong can you go? Right now there’s about two gallons in a primary fermenting chamber and I’ll pitch the yeast tomorrow. I have to go buy another carboy because all of mine are currently full of apple cider. 

One of Homero’s clients brought him an enormous side of  salmon as a tip. I cut it into five approximately 1 1/2 lb pieces, and we ate one fresh and then I smoked the others. One of the smoked pieces is in the fridge to snack on and the others are vacuum sealed and will keep in the fridge for a few months. Probably not until Christmas though, sadly. Smoked salmon is my favorite thing to send friends and family as a Christmas gift. I could throw them in the freezer but I’m not sure how well the texture would hold up. 

Let’s see, what else? Oh, I canned six quarts of salsa ranchera  this week with tomatoes from gleaners. But I’m not doing a lot of canning for the simple reason that I can’t find canning lids anywhere! Apparently canning lids are the toilet paper of this phase of the pandemic. I have one package of small mouth lids left. 

A couple days ago I hit my favorite local farm stands just to see what was available. I brought home some sweet corn (which we ate), some cherry tomatoes (ditto), five pounds of green beans, and three smallish kohlrabi. I started kimchee with the kohlrabi. Earlier this summer I made a batch of kohlrabi kimchee and it was the BOMB. It’s only about a quart, but we will enjoy it. 

I’ll have to decide if I want to use the last of my canning lids to make canned dilly beans with the green beans, or if I will lacto-ferment them like kosher dill pickles. Both ways are good. 

I haven’t even started in the pears. Good lord, the pears! WHY did I plant FOUR pear trees? 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Memorial Painting

My memorial painting of Paloma with her sweet, deceased pet baby goat Stormy. I’m not a good painter by any means - in fact at some point during every attempt at painting I am convinced I am the worst painter in all of North America and I want to set my painting on fire and then set myself on fire as well. But my merit as a painter - or lack thereof - is distinctly secondary to any comfort I might be able to bring to my baby girl. 

I hope she likes this painting, and I hope she chooses to put it up in her room and I hope it brings her a little bit of relief from grief. But even if not, making it was good exercise for me. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Hope Springs Eternal (More Babies)


Just a few days ago, we lost six baby chicks to drowning in the water trough. It was a tough reminder that babies need a special environment, even when the mama hen is raising them herself. They need a warm, dry place for mama to care for them, and they need a very shallow watering dish, no more than 1" deep. They also need grit, oyster shell, and high protein food. They need to have shelter that is devoid of crevasses where they can get lost (another way we have lost chicks - fallen down in between hay bales) and they need a roof to protect them from hawks and eagles. Mama hens do their best, but they are neither very smart, very fierce, nor very dextrous. I hate to imagine (but of course I have imagined) the distress of the mama hen unable to help her babies out of the water trough. 

For the last several weeks - not sure exactly how long - we have been aware that the Mama Guinea hen was sitting on a nest somewhere in the pasture. She disappeared, and for a week or so we were afraid she had been eaten by something, but she made several brief appearances over the following month. She would show up in the barnyard, snarf down some food, and quickly scuttle off back into the weeds. Homero wanted to try to find the nest, but I forbade him, because I read that Guinea hens will abandon a nest if you discover it. 

Yesterday morning when I went out to milk, I saw she was back with her husband. Then I heard some peeping, and sure enough, she was surrounded by a flock of tiny chicks. They were quick, and they stayed huddled together in a pretty solid mass, and Mama stayed on top of them for the most part, but I could tell there were a lot of them. I couldn't get close enough to count them, because Papa Guinea was very protective and he charged me, feathers a-fluff, when I approached. As best I can tell, there are about a dozen. 

I'm not going to try to do anything. If I discover another set of surprise baby chickens, I will scoop them and the mama hen up and put them in the rabbit hutch, but I'm going to assume that the mated pair of Guinea hens can raise their own young better than I can. It's delightful to see Papa Guinea so solicitous and proud. Roosters don't give a goddamn about their offspring, but Guinea Cocks apparently do.

What we are going to do with a score or so Guinea hens, though... that is another question. Google says they taste like pheasant. Guess we will find out. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Death and Disaster (Bad Farmer, Good Grief?)

A few days ago, Paloma told me something seemed to be wrong with Stormy, her extra-special pet baby goat, the surprise baby that Flopsy popped out at the end of May. 

He’s always been small, and not growing as well as the others, but I attributed that to the fact that his mama was extremely elderly and thin while she was pregnant with him. I expected he would stay small, but had no reason to think he wouldn’t be healthy. But there was clearly something wrong right now. The day before, he has been keeping up with  the herd, but now he laid down on the ground, and was grinding his teeth, which is how goats express pain. 

We took him to the vet - even though it was Sunday. The vet took some blood and a stool sample, and when those came back, told us he had a very heavy load of stomach worms and was severely anemic. He was so anemic, in fact, that the vet said he had only a 50/50 chance of making it through the next 24 hours. 

We were shocked. I knew the goats had worms - the goats ALWAYS have worms. Worms are pretty much impossible to eradicate, especially if they are resistant to medications, as mine are. But we had no idea the situation was this serious. several of my mama goats are quite thin, and they have intermittent diarrhea, and I knew it was time to worm them again, but nobody seemed on the point of death or anything like that. 

We went home with subcutaneous fluids for him, to be administered every four hours, and with three different medications, each with their own schedule. The vet told us to coop him up tight with his mamma so he wouldn’t expend any excess energy. We did that, but when we went and checked on him at 10 pm, he seemed cold, so we brought him in the house and wrapped him up. Paloma slept with him on the couch. 

Despite everything we did, he died at about 6 am. Paloma was devastated, inconsolable. Ever since she was a tiny child, every goat she picked out to be her special pet has died. Stormy was the third. The first died of a urinary calculus, a not uncommon problem in wethers. The second ate rhododendron and died of poisoning. And now this. 

I don’t blame Paloma if she’s angry at me. Controlling parasites is difficult, as I’ve said, but I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been. I didn’t want to spend that kind of money - individual fecal flotations on every goat three or four times a year adds up quickly to several hundred dollars - and the best practices are incredibly hard or imposible to implement. Several months ago when I had a vet out we went over worm control measures, and I just didn’t see how they were feasible. We would need to invest thousands of dollars into fencing to create five or six pastures for rotation, and mow all the pastures every two weeks over the summer so that the eggs would be exposed to the ultraviolet light of the sun. The pastures are full of embedded rocks and pieces of concrete and such that it makes them impossible to mow with standard equipment. 

I asked “what if I took all the goats off the pasture entirely, kept them in a sacrifice area and fed them hay? How long would it take for the eggs to die off and to have a clean slate again?” 

Five years. 


In other words, you can’t. 

The only thing I can do is do more fecals, and treat the symptomatic goats on a schedule. And make sure they have the highest quality feed and minerals so they have the nutrition they need to fight off worms.  So that’s where we are. That’s what I’m committed to doing. 

We buried Stormy under the plum tree. Now just about every significant tree on the property has a beloved animal buried under it. Ivory is under the pink dogwood. Dorian and Vladimir are under the pear tree. Now Stormy is under the plum. Paloma is still pining, a week later. 

Then today, I went out to feed the animals and found that all six of the surprise new baby chicks has drowned in the water trough. All fucking six of them. All of them. All of them. 

I can’t bring myself to tell Paloma. 

I feel like such a negligent failure. I KNOW baby chicks drown in water troughs. I should have scooped up the mama
with her babies as soon as we found them and transported her to the rabbit hutch to raise them in a safe place. But I didn’t and now they’re all dead. 

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m doing this. Sometimes farming just feels like one heartbreak after another.  Sometimes it’s very hard to imagine the upside. 

I have to believe that the joy of living close to the land, immersed in the specific nature of our homestead is a concrete good for the soul. I have to believe that forming loving bonds with individual animals, caring for them, and delighting in their grace and beauty is good for us. I even believe that grief is good for us. I do. 

Joseph Campbell, talking about Greek tragedy, wrote “the world, as we know it, as we have seen it, yields but one ending: death, disintegration, dismemberment, and the crucifixion of our heart with the passing of the forms that we have loved.” which is undeniably true. Yet, he was not a pessimist or a melancholy man. On the contrary, he believed that we should strive to align our hearts and our perspectives with the eternal, divine animating principle that gives rise to the forms that we love. If we can do this, we will be peaceful, able to participate in the joy of infinite creation, which does not die with any one form but which goes on playfully creating more and more forever. 

This, however, is not an idea to be expressed to a grieving child at 6 am after a long, terrible, sleepless night. So I was incredibly grateful for my older daughter, Hope, who remembered this part of the FFA creed, which both she and Paloma memorized at school, and spoke it out loud as a kind of benediction: 

I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Miracle Milk (Goats are Great)

A neighbor of mine, S., recently had her first grandchild. Her daughter gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Although everything seemed fine at first, the baby wasn’t growing well. He had nearly constant colic, and wasn’t gaining weight the way the doctor wanted to see, even though he was nursing well. After trying several other things, the doctor suggested it might be something in mom’s diet, and suggested going off dairy entirely. 

Well, my neighbor owns a dairy. They are an old fashioned family-owned dairy, the likes of which have nearly disappeared. They own a hundred or so Holsteins, which are milked twice a day, and the dairy truck comes by daily to take away the milk. The family simply siphons off fresh unpasteurized milk from their refrigerated tank for their own use. “Going off dairy” was a serious proposition for someone raised on a dairy farm and used to fresh raw milk with every meal. Mom tried, but couldn’t give up milk for her coffee. The baby didn’t materially improve, and mom decided as a last ditch effort, she would seek out goat’s milk for her coffee and see if that made a difference. 

An aside - people who have trouble with milk and milk products might have any one of a number of different things going on. The most common is lactose intolerance. That is an inability to digest lactose (milk sugar) because of deficiency of the enzyme needed to break it apart. That enzyme is called lactase. All infant mammals produce it, but all non-human mammals, and many human mammals, cease to produce it after the age of weaning. If you don’t produce lactase, you will not be able to digest any milk, from whatever source. 

However, other people produce plenty of lactase but are intolerant to the protein in cow’s milk. They might be truly allergic to that protein, or they might just have an “intolerance,” meaning it causes them indigestion. If the milk PROTEIN is the problem, as opposed to the milk SUGAR, then one might very well be able to tolerate goat’s milk but not cow’s milk. The protein molecule of cow’s milk is about 100 times larger than that of human milk; the goat’s milk protein molecule much more closely resembles that of human milk. 

Back to the main story - my neighbor approached me and asked if I would be interested in trading goats milk for cows milk, just to see if it made a difference to her grandbaby. Of course I said yes. Two weeks later, my neighbor called me and said that the goat’s milk was a miracle, that she had been skeptical that anything in mom’s diet was the issue but she couldn’t argue with the results. Baby’s colic had nearly disappeared and he had gained significant weight. When I went to her house to trade more milk, she gave me a huge hug. 

In the course of my job (medical interpreter) I spend a lot of time just chatting with people while we sit in tiny exam rooms waiting for the doctor to arrive. One of the ways I pass the time is talking about my farm. Many of my clients grew up in very rural situations and this gives them a chance to reminisce and often we connect talking about caring for animals, kitchen wisdom and lore. 

No fewer than three people - all of them very elderly now - have told me that they were raised on goat’s milk from early infancy. One old gentleman told me how he was adopted when his mother died in childbirth and that he was fed goat milk from the first day of his life. When he told me the story he said “a nanny goat was my mother.” The other two were not quite so effusive, but they both told me that formula just wasn’t a thing that was available in the tiny ranchitos where they lived, and if there wasn’t a wet nurse available, then goat’s milk was considered the next best thing for newborns. 

In our area, there are a lot of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. Some of them that are friends of ours have also expressed an almost magical belief in the power of raw goat’s milk to promote health and vigor. One Ukrainian friend of my mom’s drove up from Seattle - 100 miles - every week to get goat’s milk for his small daughter. 

Personally I have no strong feelings one way or the other about goat’s vs cow’s milk, not even about pasteurized vs raw milk (though I do think people ought to be allowed to buy and sell raw milk). I like goat’s milk. I LOVE goat cheese. If there is any magic in it, I tend to think it derives not from an inherent quality of the milk, but from the fact that it is a product of our own homestead. 

This place, this earth, grew the grass that nourished the goats. My hands cared for them and doctored them, birthed them and milked them. My eyes delighted in their grace and cavorting. My mind learned to use the milk to make cheese. My spirit birthed the longing to create this place and called all of it into being. Together my family made a home here that supports the goats, and they in turn support us. We have a beautiful circle going on here. 

The circle is the magic.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Horns of the Dilemma (to Disbud or Not to Disbud)

Seven A.M. on a Saturday. We are all peacefully asleep, dreaming the dreams of the innocent. There is no alarm clock set; we will wake when we wake, naturally and without intervention.

OR SO WE THINK. The phone rings, jangling us out of slumber. “Your goat is stuck in the fence again,” says our neighbor, acerbically. “She’s yelling.” 

For perhaps the ninth time this week, Homero truckles  out to the back pasture, wire cutters in one hand, wiping the sleep out of his eyes with the other. He spends a difficult ten minutes wrestling with Lilac, the goat who insists on sticking her head through the fence several times a day, even though the grass is EXACTLY as green on this side as that. 

We used to disbud our baby goats. Most goat farmers disbud, or at least in our area they did when we got into goats. Goats with horns are not allowed at the county fair, which means any kids who have goats as a 4-H project would have to disbud. For those of you who don’t know, disbudding a baby goat involves applying a red-hot iron to their little adorable heads for at least twenty seconds, while they struggle and scream and behave exactly as you would, if someone were applying a red hot iron to your head. 

Personally? I am a feelingless monster (Aquarius) and their pain and suffering didn’t really enter into the equation. However, I am a trained medical professional and I did notice that a high percentage of baby goats suffered serious consequences in the form of neurological symptoms for several days afterwards. And more importantly, no fewer than three baby goats died over the years, following the procedure, even though I took them to the vet and had it done under anesthesia.

Feelings aside, that’s an unacceptable economic proposal: let me give you more money than this goat is actually worth, to perform a procedure that has, in my experience, a 5% chance of killing my animal. That just doesn’t make sense. For a couple of seasons, we tried to do the procedure ourselves, but I found that I am not hard hearted enough (or strong stomached enough?) to apply the iron for the time needed to kill the horn buds and avoid the growth of misshapen scurs. It seems that there is very little margin for error in the disbudding operation - the space between too little and too much thermal damage is slim indeed. 

So, three or four years ago, we decided we won’t disbud baby goats anymore. For the most part, this decision has had very few negative consequences. Goats do use their horns to challenge each other, butting heads and so forth, but they cannot really do any real damage to each other with them - with the exception of bucks who can and do butt pregnant does and cause them to miscarry. There is still a good argument for  disbudding bucklings. We don’t do it, but I understand and support people who do. 

This decision means we have several does with horns, and one of them - Lilac - is so dumb as to get her head stuck in the fence multiple times a day. Another quick piece of relevant information - it is not feasible to remove horns form an adult goat. Horns are lavishly supplied with blood vessels, and removing them is tantamount to an amputation. 

So we have been forced to try and rig up some sort of headdress that will prevent Lilac from putting her head through the fence, which has 4x4” openings. A little googling showed me solutions involving pool noodles. 
I went to the dollar store and bought a pool noodle, and we attempted to attach them to her head with zip ties:

These fell off within minutes. We tried again, this time incorporating a cross-bar: 

This also lasted less than 60 minutes. Our next attempt was to put the entire pool noodle crosswise:

Also attached with zip ties, this arrangement lasted all of 30 minutes. The problem is that her horns, like most, are basically cylindrical. The headdress tends to slip up to the tips. 

Finally, tired of fucking around and very extremely tired of being awakened at the crack of dawn by understandably irate neighbors, we bought a roll of wide, industrial strength duck tape and a short length of PVC piping. None too gently, I restrained the recalcitrant goat while Homero wound foot after foot of duck tape around her horns.

This iteration has lasted five days now. I hope
It will last until her horns grow wide enough to prevent the passage of her head through the holes in the fence. Wish us luck. We want to sleep. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

High Cheese Season 2020 (Making Do)

            A middle stage in the making of cheddar 

In last week’s post on preserving, I forgot to include cheese. Cheese is kind of the whole point of this farm - a desire to milk goats and learn how to make cheese was one of the driving forces in moving up here in the first place. After ten or so years, I have developed three or four cheese recipes that serve me well. As in many endeavors, it is pretty easy to achieve a basic level of competence, and then quite difficult to move on to a level of expertise that allows for consistent, high quality results every time. 

Being who I am, I have more or less decided that I’m happy with my level. I very seldom have an abject failure - all the cheese I make tastes good and is usable for one application or another. But I often have to decide what that application is AFTER I see how the cheese turns out. 

Today I am making chevre and cheddar. Chevre is easy - you just culture the fresh milk and wait 24 hours, then drain it through a clean pillowcase and salt it to taste. Once in a while, especially in very warm weather, the chevre will develop some off, goaty flavors that nobody is fond of. When that happens, I incorporate the cheese into a highly flavored recipe where the goaty flavors will be outcompeted,  like spicy eggplant Parmesan. 

Cheddar is more difficult. It requires several steps, and my recipes include instructions that are patently impossible to follow in a home kitchen, such as “hold the milk at exactly 99 degrees for four hours.” Much of the “cheddar” I’ve made is actually just “plain semi-hard cheese.” The most common defect is that it stays crumbly instead of melding into a single, smooth textured mass. But hey, goat cheese crumbles are a delicious addition to many dishes. Luckily, my Mexican husband is totally used to a dish of cheese crumbles on the table as a condiment, with a spoon, for sprinkling onto everything from refried beans to scrambled eggs to green salad. 

Making do with what you have is a philosophy, one that I’m fond of. I’m not going to waste any time lamenting over a “failure” to produce perfect cheddar when what I’ve actually produced is a pretty delicious piece of cheese. Instead, I’m going to incorporate that cheese into the larger, creative task of taking stock of what I have on hand and weaving disparate ingredients into something new and satisfying. 

This morning, I opened a vacuum sealed package of cheese from early this spring, expecting to find a nice, mild, melting cheddar. Instead it was a sharp flavored crumbly cheese. But it still worked well to make squash blossom goat cheese quesadillas for breakfast. I got no complaints. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Preserving Log (Early Summer Edition)

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging, I’m afraid. Since the stay-at-home order was lifted early last month, I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper-hanger (as my mother used to say). 

Mostly, I’ve been working a lot. All the procedures and routine checkup and vaccination appointments and dentist appointments that were canceled during the lockdown have been rescheduled, and all the doctor’s and dentist’s offices are full. My agency is down by at least three interpreters. Two of them are elderly and not in great health and so are not taking appointments at the moment, and o e of them got stuck in Spain way back in March and hasn’t been able to come home yet. This means there is a ton of work for me, more than I want, really, but if I turn appointments down they often go unfilled.

In my free times, this is what I’ve been doing as far as preserving goes: 

 - several small batches (3-4 quarts at a time) salsa ranchera, as the gleaners pantry gives me the ingredients

- a gallon of kosher fills that is almost gone now. Yesterday I bought more pickling cucumbers and later on today I will gather grape leaves start a new batch

- a gallon ziploc of dried cherry tomatoes. Haven’t done this before and it’s really good. I season them with a little salt and garlic powder and then dry them till they are very leathery or even crisp. Nice for snacking and they add great flavor to a stew or soup.

- froze about a dozen quarts of strawberries. Went to the u-pick with friends when they were up visiting. 

And today I am breaking out the big stockpot to deal with this:

That’s about 25 pounds of mixed stone fruit from gleaner’s. After I separated the fruit that was too far gone and picked out the fruit that was still perfect for eating fresh, I was left with about ten to twelve pounds of slightly overripe fruit. The last hour or so has been devoted to bleaching, peeling, and chopping and my kitchen looked like a couple of murders had taken place (red plums!) but now I have this simmering on the stove:

Spicy stone fruit chutney. It has cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, red pepper flakes, a TINY hint of garlic, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. It smells like heaven and it ought to be delicious with pork chops, chicken breasts, or maybe a hearty fish like halibut. It’s super pretty, too. 

But man there’s gonna be a lot of it. I think this may be my Christmas present to a few people this year. 

Still sitting out on the front porch: a crate of corn on the cob to be shucked, shaved, and frozen; and about ten pounds of jalapeños to be turned into rajas en escabeche. I might get the peppers done today, but he corn is gonna have to wait. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Just Cute Goat Pictures

Paloma and Flopsy’s baby boy. I can’t decide who is cuter. 

My goat-totin’ man, totin’ Bitsy and Bootsy, Christmas’ two doelings. 

Hope being tickled by goat kisses from Sweet Pea, Polly’s doeling. 

Me and Bitsy. I think I’m gonna keep this one. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


On Friday, the governor announced that Washington state was ending the stay-home order as of Monday morning. All that really means is that we are now officially allowed to leave home for “non-essential” reasons. There are still no gatherings allowed and stores and restaurants have not reopened. Those activities can begin whenever we make it to “phase two,” which depends on a number of variables including number of new cases weekly, hospital capacity, and I did remember what else. Daily life has not really changed, but it’s still a big psychic relief not to be in actual quarantine anymore. 

Today our last baby goat was born. Lilac was the last to pop. She’s our first freshener, the one baby I chose to keep from last year because she was the biggest, healthiest, and cutest. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a super easy birth. She had a single big buckling, and one of his legs was back. The kids and I had put her in the mama barn when we went out for afternoon chores and saw she was straining, and then we went inside to eat dinner and watch an episode of cutthroat kitchen, our new favorite show. 

When I went back outside to check on her an hour later, she had a head protruding from her rear, and, after a closer examination, a single foot. Luckily she was quite calm and in no distress, and the baby was alive. I called the vet and asked what to do, since I have never corrected this presentation before. 

“Can you push the baby back in?” he asked. 

“No way.” There was no way in hell I was going to try to push the entire head back into poor Lilac. It was completely out, up to the base of the neck. 

“Ok,” he said, “sometimes you can pull them out with one leg back, if there’s enough room.” 

“How can I tell if there’s enough room?”

“Feel around the baby on all sides and see if you can slip your fingers in between the baby and the bone.” 

I could (Lilac was being extremely cooperative, just standing there eating grain while I felt around in her vagina), so the vet said I could wait for a contraction and just apply some gentle traction - “but stop if she starts to really cry out or struggle, and I’ll come out.” 

It worked. The baby came out a little more and more, until right at the widest part of the shoulders Lilac gave one big bleat - but the baby was on the straw five seconds later. 

What a good mama goat! After her rough delivery, she still took an interest in him right away, and vigorously cleaned him up, talking to him the whole time. The poor little guy took quite some time to stand up. Maybe he was just tired, but for a few minutes I was worried that the poor presentation had caused some nerve damage because he couldn’t seem to support his weight. Eventually I decided to hold him up by the teat and see if he would nurse. He did, and after he got a little milk into him, and rested for a while longer, he was able to stand up on his own. 

I think I made a good choice keeping Lilac. She was bred a little young, but she did great, and having been a bottle baby she’s very friendly and used to being petted and touched. Assuming she becomes a good milker - no reason she shouldn’t - I’ll be very happy with her. 

So that’s all the babies this year. Three does and three bucks. One of the does and one of the bucks are already spoken for; I may keep both of the other does and just sell the buckling. We’ll see. Now begins my favorite time of the year, early summer with baby goats gamboling about outside and lots of milk and cheese making in the kitchen. 

Hopefully it isn’t too late, if Whatcom country progresses through stage two and onto stage three fairly quickly, for a few summer activities that were previously cancelled to be revived. Paloma told me that her theater teacher said that if we reach phase three by the early part of July, they can go ahead with the summer play. Who knows, there might even be Fair in August. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

DQ74 - Double Surprise

Yesterday Flopsy, our second oldest goat at thirteen, surprised the heck out of us by popping out a single baby buckling, quietly and with no fanfare. 

It’s been a couple of years since Flopsy had a baby. She’s elderly, arthritic, and not in the greatest of health, and I’ve tried to keep her separate from the buck so this wouldn’t happen. I don’t want to tax her system - she’s done yoeman service and doesn’t need to earn her keep any longer. 

Nonetheless, she got pregnant somehow and threw this adorable little buckling. Paloma discovered him yesterday morning when she was going out to bottle feed Polly’s babies. 

Oh yeah - Polly had a rough delivery and developed a fever and went downhill so quickly that I had to call the vet out. I was worried that I’d done her some harm by going in to help deliver the babies but the vet said no - more likely she’d been developing an infection since I noticed the premature string of goo four days before she delivered. Whenever membranes rupture prematurely you have a high risk of infection. Polly has been getting a twice daily regimen of antibiotics, vitamin B, and steroids for the past several days and is much better. However she lost most of her milk and her twins need supplemental feedings twice a day. The vet says she may never regain her milk this year. For a few days we were feeding the babies round the clock, but today whenever we tried to feed them they already had full tummies and were uninterested in the bottle, so it seems Polly has recuperes enough capacity to feed them herself. 

In other news, the governor has finally decided to lift the stay-at-home order as of this coming Monday morning. Yhe actual changes to daily life will be subtle - we are still prohibited to gather in groups larger than 5, and most businesses remain closed. Masks are also required in public indoor spaces, and outdoors where people cannot maintain 6 feet of distance. 

There has been a great deal of controversy on the subject of masks - violence has broken out in some places - but I haven’t seen open conflict here. In my small community, I’d say about half the people I see in public are wearing masks. I wear my mask assiduously, because I work in health care and am at high risk of contracting the virus. Wearing a mask protects me a little, but if I happen to be carrying the virus, it protects those around me a lot. Personally I have a hard time understanding the resistance to this innocuous act, but it seems to have become a political football. 

Now that there is a path forwards towards Opening back up, I have a little bit of hope that some events planned for later in the summer that were Called off - like the fair - might possibly be “called on” again. 

In the meantime, we just keep keeping on.