Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Fun


Noah and Avery on Christmas Eve, opening gifts



 
Christmas morning at my folks

 
 The kids waiting to get into their second set of stockings for the day.
 
Christmas Dinner, which in addition to the previously mentioned menu, included shitake mushrooms sauteed in olive oil, butter and garlic (they were fabulous!, made by Adam). We also had roasted broccoli with lemon juice and parmesan.
 
Finishing off the wonderful meal we had home made caramels followed by these gingerbread trifles.

After I finished the last post, I realized that I had never really gotten to the heart of the issue or made the point I was trying to make, which in essence was this: what better way to celebrate life, family and the holidays than by going above and beyond to do something special whether it is cooking, decorating or other holiday traditions. My utmost purpose in sharing our special menus is to encourage you to take the extra step, try something new or be extra nice to yourself, not only during the holdidays but on ordinary days as well. For after all, what is living if we can't do it up, right?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The flat surfaces in our house are piled high with wrapped presents.We don't have a tree this year but we are spending Christmas day at my folks. They have a lovely real tree that we helped decorate. Even if we had a tree I know that the kids would not resist the temptation to undecorate it and open any reachable presents at their leisure. The last couple nights we've stayed up late finishing last minute craft projects for gift giving. I just have to assemble items into bags now. I'll be sharing what I've made after Christmas, wouldn't want to spoil any surprise should my family be tuning in. 

We are lacking in Christmas lights and decorations, but our house feels so cluttered already I'm not sure where I'd put things. On the other hand we are still enjoying the sounds and smells of Christmas. The kids and I have been peeling and eating clementines and pomegranates daily. We've been listening to beautiful Christmas concerts on public radio along with my favorite Christmas CD; Mistle Toe and Wine by Medieval Babes. 

Today I am making a red wine reduction sauce with porcini mushrooms and a gingerbread buttermilk cake in advance for tomorrow.  The menu for tomorrow is as follows:


Breakfast or Brunch:
Homemade Apple Fritters with maple glaze
Eggs Benedict
coffee and juice


Dinner:
Sparkling Cranberry lime cocktail followed by wine

Iceberg wedges with homemade blue cheese dressing
Beef Filet Mignons wrapped in puff pastry with a red wine reduction sauce
Beet salad with fresh oregano, chevre and walnuts
Smashed Potatoes with watercress 


Dessert:
Gingerbread Trifles with carmelized apples, cranberries, ginger and whipped cream
coffee


Yum, yum! Wishing you and yours a peaceful and merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Interior Doe Shed


The does have been spending quite a bit of time indoors lately. I am standing just to the right of the entrance. Yin is standing to the left of the interior wall and sliding pocket gate. The outside walls are well insulated but the long wall on the left is currently uninsulated. By next year at this time it should be our enclosed, insulated and heated shop. Right now the structure still needs a couple sheets of plywood, a door, insulation and the wood stove hooked up, for starters. You can see the frost lines on the wall. The area that is not frosty is sixteen inches of insulated floor and twelve inches of solid wood blocking.
 
Here is a view from the back corner facing the door. You can see the frosty flap that they push through to go in and out. Below is a picture of their light source. So far we are just using a regular light bulb, but if we need to, we can just unscrew the bulb and replace it with a heat lamp. We have tried to put the light as out of the way as possible. It is enclosed in a metal basket and the cord is wrapped in wire so if the goats were able to get at it they wouldn't be able to chew the cord. Their is a hole drilled in the wall directly behind the cage that the cord enters through. So far I've just been plugging the light in when I feed in the morning and unplugging it at night. I'll probably put it on a timer and save myself a little effort one of these days. So far I'm pretty happy with our new goat shed. It feels snug and draft free inside. It is noticeably warmer than outside. We keep the heated waterer and feeders outside to encourage the goats to leave their shelter and get outside. I read somewhere that you don't want the barn to be much more than thirty degrees warmer than outside or it will be too drastic a change in temperature for the animals. Also, if our waterer was indoors it would add a lot of humidity to the air.  I encourage the goats to get outside as much as possible. Even on the coldest days, I still feed grain and some hay outside. On a side note, it is a balmy twenty degrees above zero today. So I'm looking forward to getting outside today, and I'm sure the goats and chickens are too.


 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tiled Hallway



 The kids play with boxes all the time. Noah saws and works on them with his toy tools. He also uses them as garages for his machines. Avery mostly sits inside them. Alaskan Pale Ale is my beer of choice lately.


Our friend Tyson, who tiled our bathroom last spring, came out and tiled our hallway and around our hearth. We are going to wait until the wood stove is not in such high demand to tile the hearth. We have a baby gate wall that divides the living room from the woodstove area and hallway. Noah has his own play area across the gate so that he can play with his train track or legos without his sister's help. The slate around the hearth warms up and now is so much easier to keep clean, making for a more comfortable and attractive play area and hallway.

Winter Wonderland




This morning is our coldest morning of the winter yet, about eighteen degrees below zero. We did have an earlier cold snap but with the thermal inversion the low lying areas got down to thirty below but we never got colder than ten below, big difference. Sometimes it takes a couple days for the thermal inversion to catch up with us as is the case now, but I hear that by tomorrow the hills should be significantly warmer. For now, I am really noticing the differences between our triple pane vs. double pane windows. Last night I heard the radio announcer say "It is going to be a bit chilly tomorrow, highs twenty to thirty below zero." Yes she really did say a bit chilly. And the weather report also said highs twenty to thirty below zero. It has been ten below the last couple days and as I was doing chores last night I could tell it was colder because my nose hairs and eye lashes were icing up, which doesn't seem to happen at ten below or warmer. We replaced the regular bulb in the coop last night with a heat lamp. It felt pretty cold and we've lost several eggs to freezing solid and cracking the last couple days. In the picture above the goats are tied up to their spots as they eat their daily grain. If you look closely you can see the sun hitting the far hillside which faces south. I took these pictures yesterday at about one p.m. This is about as much sun as we'll see in a day.



The above picture shows the path we take up to the chicken coop. The picture below is our driveway.

 

 

 Huge ice crystals are built up on the west side of all the trees and shelters as with this birch tree. During our last warm spell I noticed that once the temperature reached the teens the frost disappeared from the trees, leaving behind a barren dismal woods. So, at least the cooler temperatures make for a lovely winter wonderland.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cold weather and Chicken coops


I just came in from night time chores. It is about ten degrees below zero and snowing. It was one of the few nights that I paused and contemplated whether I really needed to go outside. Tempting me, was not only the cold weather and lack of motivation to pile on all my layers, but the time of night and the knowledge that all the animals were probably sleeping. It is almost midnight and these days we usually give everyone dinner and close chicken doors earlier in the evening. When the weather gets this cold we toss extra hay at each feeding, so no one was going to go hungry. I went out mostly to check on everyone and make sure they were warm enough, and toss some more hay (for my conciouncse)  Rarely do I toss fresh hay into the goat stalls, but I did tonight. It can be a waste of hay. On the plus side, it adds a fresh layer of bedding and the goats don't have to stand out in the cold and blowing snow. The chickens and ducks had wanted outside this morning despite the cold. We had closed their doors earlier in the evening so their coops could start building up heat for the night. As of yet we have still not used any heat lamps this year, just regular light bulbs.

In related news, I mixed a hundred and fifty pounds of chicken feed outside today. I managed to stay warm by moving quickly. Noah even helped. Tomorrow we are having hay delivered to an area close to our driveway. We are getting three nine hundred pound bales of brome hay, second cutting. I have never used this source before but I was clear that my goats are very picky. They prefer green leafy hay. The price is less than we've paid for hay yet this year even with the delivery fee, so we'll see. I hope it doesn't snow more than the one inch forcasted, otherwise it is going to be a chore getting the truck all the way up to the bucks pen.

I took some pictures of our chicken coops a few days ago, so here they are:




This is a view of the entire structure from the north side. Before we had dug out the hillside this was a hovel for my quarter horse. After she moved we built a smaller insulated structure within her stall which became the buck stall. We built another well insulated room on the top making it a two story structure. Outside there is a pen within a pen of woven wire fencing with two strands of electric on the inside. It was designed to keep the bucks in and off the fence. They have since moved to the doe's old stall and pen. Now both structures are poultry housing. The lower coop houses three ducks, four pullets and three roosters. We are about to eat a couple of the roosters. 
 
The space is underused, we had four more pullets in the lower coop but they wanted to be in the upper coop and kept escaping. We moved the birds into this area in late fall and didn't have time to build a roof or taller fence so these birds are rather vulnerable. If the top coop wasn't at max capacity I would probably consolidate all the birds into the top coop. We are thinking of just housing ducks in the lower coop next year. In the picture you can see the gate on the right and some random containers I put water in for the ducks. Below is inside the coop. Perch, nesting boxes above, light, heated waterer, duck jug and feeder.






Below is a view from the south. The top coop is larger, about ten by twelve (I think). It also has a much nicer roofed outer fortress. This summer we felt safe at night leaving the chicken door to the coop open as long as they couldn't get out of their outer pen. We have two doors one on the left and one on the right. We are planning on extending their fenced area with a mesh net roofing out to give them more room to roam. The only big regret I have in this structure is that the stairs into the coop are inside their pen.




The top coop currently houses fifteen hens and two roosters. In the milder months we could put more birds in here but when they are cooped up for days at a time it gets crowded and the less dominant pullets get picked on. Starting in March or April the left side will house chicks and all the adults will be confined to the right side for a couple months.

 
This is the view from the door, of the left side of the coop. Heated waterer, broody box and perch. The woven wire door is to my right.


The door is obnoxious. We've been meaning to take it off as we leave it open all the time except in the spring when we have chicks on the left side. You can see the big feeder in the back, and a little feeder in the front which is for all the less dominant birds that hide on the left side of the coop. To the left of the feeder are laying boxes, You can't quite see them but they are on the back wall.

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And here I am standing with my back to the nesting boxes and facing the chicken door and window. The chicken door is too big. We've been meaning to make it smaller so not as much warm air escapes or cold air enters. But we make do.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December Does

Nia is in heat and Zuri ( tail tucked on the right) is not.
I took these photos a couple days ago about midday. This is about how light and bright it is getting daily. The sun will not shine on our land for another month. The day light hours are so few that I look forward to day break, I get out, visit and watch the animals. I look out the windows and enjoy seeing the snow, the trees covered in frost and chickadees at the feeders. It is almost like I forget what I am missing until I have it again. By mid February I will be ecstatic about the sun hitting the house and coming in the french doors. The kids and I will take advantage of every ray coming in the windows, migrating as the sun moves through the house, shining on floor, blankets and the couch.
Nia is mounting Zuri while the girls try to enjoy their breakfast. Rose is the white doe. Nia is her daughter. They are both completely obnoxious and vocal when they are in heat. I am not breeding either doeling as they were born late in the season. They are about eight months old and are far to small for breeding. They were born in April and May. Last year we didn't breed our doeling either and now she is almost bigger than anyone, and looks so robust and healthy. Unfortunately she completely hides her heat cycles and I can barely get her to stand still to look under her tail.
This is Xanadu. I am excited about our coming kidding and milking season together. I miss milking Xanadu. I try to give her attention but I deffinitely don't handle her as much as the does I am milking. Last winter we thought she was bred but come time to kid her udder never filled, nor did she kid. Fortunately we didn't really need the extra milk. This year Xan has filled out and is looking good, she moved from bottom of the pack to leader. I bred her in September and was looking forward to some early kids but she came back into heat on Thanksgiving. So we bred her again but now we probably won't have kids until April. I was looking forward to February for once. Early kids would be nice for several reasons. We'll try again next year. Both Rose and Xoe are also bred to kid in April. Yin is the only doe I've yet to breed, and I think she might be going into heat tonight. If Xan has a doeling we will definitely be keeping her!
This is a nice picture of Xan and the doe's covered area. The feeder on the left has since been lowered. You can see their door on the left has a flap in addition to a plywood flap that is latched in the upright position- but I can lower and close it to keep them in if I need to. Last winter we had a wolf scare and for a couple weeks I screwed plywood over the flap every night and then took it off in the morning. On the far right there is a plywood gate into a future pen so we can move does easily. The mineral and baking soda feeder is on the back wall. Notice how much hay covers the ground. Magic was my horse of eleven years and she ate every speck of hay every feeding her entire life. I am so not use to such hay wastage especially at the price we pay for hay, which I cannot bear to go into at the moment (future post). Someday we will build a more efficient covered hay feeder which will help. We use hay for bedding. Straw is a better insulator so makes for a warmer bedding. Straw is almost as expensive as hay so we just use the old hay that they don't eat. I toss the leftovers in their stalls daily and it builds up becoming quite warm and soft by mid winter.

Egg News

This is not the best quality picture but you can see the deformed egg. If I didn't know better I might think that it was starting to develop or something, but we collect the eggs daily, so this is just a dud. Dustin was frying up eggs for breakfast. Needless to say after I took the picture we dumped this egg into the compost bucket.
As Noah would say, "This is a honker!" Well, big for us anyways and no it is not a duck egg. Most of the eggs we've been getting are out of our sexlinked pullets. I think the large one is out of our older layers, who have been molting and are just starting to lay again. Considering that this egg was so big that the carton wouldn't close, I guess it was pretty big. Below is a picture of it next to a quarter and a normal size egg. The far bottom photo was a picture of it in the pan, a double yolker.

In other news, our one female duck has not started laying that we know of. She is about eight months old and the males have been mating her for a couple months. The ducks are in with some chickens. The chickens lay their eggs in the nesting boxes. If the duck is laying her eggs they would be on the ground so I'm starting to wonder if she or the chickens are eating her eggs. Might be time for a special box on the ground for her.

The Ameraucanas are just starting to lay. I have four pullets and I'm just getting a blue green egg every other day, so I think maybe the most mature pullet is just starting. I can't wait until they are all laying as blue eggs are just lovely, so far the eggs from this batch of Ameraucanas are more narrow. Last year we bought Ameraucanas from a different breeder, the eggs were round and the shell quality and color were excellent. The birds themselves were rather flighty and small. We've got a few roosters this year, and I'm happy to say that they actually have enough meat on their frames to make them worth harvesting, unlike last year. I had received an odd ball Delaware pullet in with the Ameraucanas and I was looking forward to seeing how she laid as she was a very nice bird. Unfortunately she up and died last week. After feeding a bird for seven months, it is a bummer when they die and you can't eat them, and never got any eggs from them either.


Our Welsummer pullets have not started laying yet. There are three of them and they are about eight months old. We should get our first egg any day, I hope. The only chickens that are laying right now are our sexlinked pullets and the older layers must be starting up again, as we are getting about eight eggs a day, as few as six and up to a dozen. I am looking forward to the diversity in egg color the Ameraucana and Welsummers provide, but I am surprised at how much slower they are to mature as they are about the same age as the Sexlinks who have been laying consistently since September. So tallying up the numbers we have at least seven chickens and a duck that haven't started laying yet, so I think will fair well in eggs this year. I think now is the slowest time of year and we will only get more eggs from here on out. As much as I like raising heritage breeds and having a diverse flock, I sure appreciate the sexlinked hybrid layers on these cold dark winter days.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Aidan

Here is a picture of my brand new nephew; Aidan Riley Bates, born to Adam and Tricia. Tricia had a natural water birth at the birth center in town. Aidan was a week early, weighed seven pounds twelve ounces. They returned home the same day they had him. I visited two days later. When I met him he was wide awake and looking around. He squeaks like a little mouse and whimpers like a new baby. I'll bet he has already changed a bunch in the last three days since I saw him. He is a very handsome little guy.

Aidan is my first nephew. I am so fortunate to live in the same town as my parents and brother. I am looking forward to watching our children grow up together. We've got Noah and Avery who are three and a half and one. Now there is Aidan who will be just over a year younger than Avery. A pack of three so far, and possibly more to come.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Posting comments and dairy regulations

I've been having trouble posting my own comments lately. If anyone has any suggestions or solutions let me know. I would also like the comments to show up below the post, without having to click on them. I've selected all the options to show comments but they still have to be opened up.

So, one of the comments that I have been trying to reply to was Margie's. She and her husband are in the final stages of starting a Grade A Certified Dairy in Palmer. For those of you who want to read the comments just scroll down to the previous post and click on comments.

Margie, thank you your input. I appreciate your clear perspective after having gone through the whole process yourselves. I readily admit that I am much less familiar than you in regards to the laws and processes for starting a certified dairy. My information has come directly from reading and interpreting the proposal itself. So I'm not entirely surprised if I misunderstood some aspects of the proposal. The public water supply and sewage aspect seemed rather straightforward so I'm not sure how that could be otherwise interpreted, but I'm glad that it was not a requirement for your dairy. You mentioned selling goat shares. That is certainly an idea we have been considering for the last couple years. I am beginning to feel organized and knowledgeable enough to venture into the world of goat milk shares this coming year. Although it does seem like quite a roundabout way to go about selling milk. Well, I look forward to keeping in touch with you both. I would absolutely love to stop in for a visit the next time we are down south. Thank you again.

Much of the public is oblivious to current milk laws and what it takes to sell milk and cheese legally. Folks are constantly surprised that I just can't sell or even give away milk or cheese. Often the misunderstanding is due to a small amount of individuals who are selling raw milk and cheese outside the law and because it is so commonplace people think it must be legal. Well, for those of you who have missed this in previous posts, it is illegal for milk to leave my property unless it is headed to a certified dairy, or in jars labeled "for animal use only, not for human consumption" The milk also has to be denatured with green food coloring and charcoal! So to be clear, I can't legally take milk or cheese to my parents when we go over for dinner. So, last I checked the local health food store does sell raw cows milk, with green dye and charcoal, for animal consumption of course.

In closing, I'm with you Bob, I do not believe that the government has a right to say what we can and can't consume. Unfortunately, there are fewer free thinkers and a much larger number of conformers and followers in our country who believe whatever current food pyramid and food guidelines the FDA is currently supporting. It is ironic that raw milk is considered a danger to public safety, but a McDonalds cheeseburger is the norm.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My thoughts on milk regulations

I have received a couple emails in response to my brief post about the DEC cheese making proposal 18AAC32. I would like to share an excerpt of one of those emails here, as I am sure that many of you have had similar questions or thoughts:

What changes would help out and still assure a safe product? The regulations are intended to assure that the processing facility is sanitary. I am willing to write DEC in favor of smaller operators, but I would like to hear specifically what you want. Mark Andrews

Well first, I'd like to genuinely thank you for taking the time to comment Mark, otherwise I would not be writing this post. I've been wanting to write more about milk, milk laws, and the controversy that surrounds the raw milk movement. I've been wanting to do more research as I want to be as informative as possible. I will state here that I am a skeptic. I do not believe much of what I read, hear or am told by A. my government, B. FDA, C. mass media D. any other large corporations or businesses. With that in mind...

The short answer is that I think there should be an exemption in proposal 18AAC32, that acknowledges that there are families milking a few animals and wanting to sell their extra milk and cheese, who are not capable nor interested in meeting the requirements of a Grade A Dairy.

Just acknowledging that ordinary people can milk animals, process milk and make cheese in their own kitchens in a safe manner and end up with safe product would be a tremendous event for the DEC or the FDA. I doubt this will happen. However, I would hope that if there is enough public interest and demand that DEC could be compelled to write up a separate list of regulations for small scale home dairies. I'm talking about making a daily batch of cheese from two to ten gallons of milk, it really isn't feasible to do more than that without the big equipment.

Before I go on discussing what I find are reasonable requirements for a home dairy, let me first enlighten you with just a small portion of the current proposal:

Construction Standards:

There must be separate rooms for each of the following operations:
1. receiving, weighing milk, washing and sterilizing containers in which milk has been received.
2. pasteurization, processing, cooling, manufacturing
3. bacteriological and chemical analysis
4. storage or aging of products
5. boiler, compressor and other machinery
6. storing of cleaning supplies or other potentially hazardous materials
seven. (my seven key is broken) toilets, lavatories, lockers
8. business offices

There are many more requirements including the structure(s) be built out of concrete. Water lines must be supplied by a public water system. Discharge must exit into a public sewer.

Obviously these regulations have been written with a large dairy in mind. In Fairbanks about half of the population lives in the city and has access to public water and sewer. The other half lives in the surrounding hills and valleys. These homes have wells or in many cases water holding tanks and private septic tanks. The reason for the water holding tanks is that it is too deep and expensive to drill for wells which often result in poor water quality. People either have water delivered by businesses or they haul their own water in jugs or water tanks. My point would be that anyone with dairy animals would be already living outside the city limits and therefore would not be able to meet these requirements just by location, unless they purchased another piece of land just for the purpose of processing milk, cheese-making and distributing etc. Furthermore, thinking of the rest of the state, most farms are located out of main population centers, which means that they are not on public water / sewer systems. This proposal is making it almost impossible to keep animals on the same premise as turning milk into cheese.

I recently visited a small goat farm in Maine. The lady had a certified dairy Maine dairy and it was legal for her to sell pasteurized cheese. I don't remember if she sold raw or pasteurized milk or not (I'll ask). Her dairy was located in the basement of her house and was no larger than a ten by twelve room. She had concrete floors, three small sinks and a refrigerator. She was required to send samples of milk ( I'm not sure about cheese) in to have it evaluated for bacteria count. She also receives surprise visits from some sort of inspector who makes sure that her cheese making and milk processing room are sanitary. Her fridge has to be at a certain temperature and her screen door has to be closed. I think that those are fair requirements. If that is what it took for me to legally be able to sell fresh chevre at the local Farmers market I would do it in a heartbeat. Maybe more importantly, if another cheesemaker met those requirements, I would feel safe buying cheese from them. I don't think that making cheese on a small scale should require much more than making baked goods or jam. Other than possibly sending milk in for testing or having surprise inspectors stop to inspect the facility.

I think it should be legal to sell raw milk and raw milk cheeses. That being said, I'm not going to go into the issues surrounding them yet. I will say that raw milk is consumed world wide on a daily basis with very few related illnesses. We drink raw milk and have been making raw milk cheeses for two years. My children are thriving. How can one even begin to compare a couple gallons of milk being turned into cheese in a home kitchen to milk in a cheesemaking factory. Personally I can see why the standards are so strict for the factory. In a home kitchen quality control is much easier enforced.

The state of Alaska and those of us who live here are going to be in big trouble if for any reason our chain of supply is cut off. Almost all of our food including milk is shipped in to the state. A very very small amount is actually grown and produced here (seriously scary). Our state should be doing all it can to foster the growth of small farms and dairies. Really all I want is for myself and others is to be able to sell milk and cheese from our own land, without having to go into debt building a factory. This is not an unreasonable request. I think that there is growing interest among the public for local food, raw and unprocessed foods, organic and natural foods. It is time to be heard, we just need the higher-ups to listen and the only way that is going to happen is if enough of us yell.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cost of a Dinner

We rarely eat out and the main reason is expense. Eating out is expensive and generally I find the quality lacking. As I make and serve dinner I often think about the costs of the meal and how expensive the same meal would be at a restaurant. Last night was one of those dinners. It was a great meal, mostly local and it cost less than twelve dollars to feed the four of us:

Top Sirloin Steak seasoned with garlic, sea salt and black pepper
meat from beef box from Tanana Valley meats $2.50 1b
1 1/2 lb. steak = 3.75

Potatoes fried in duck fat
potatoes from the garden
duck fat leftover from our last duck meal

Sweet and sour red cabbage with bacon
cabbages from the garden
one yellow onion (.50) organic sliced bacon $6.00

Direct cost 10.25

I am not sure about how to put a price on our own potatoes, duck fat or cabbage, but I could tack on a few more dollars for the labor, fertilizer and garden space it took to grow these items and still have a reasonably priced meal. Not to mention that we have enough leftovers for a second meal. Dustin and I enjoyed an eleven dollar bottle of wine so if we add that on, we spent about twenty dollars on food and drink for the night. That is less than a family of four spends for dinner at McDonalds (at least here in Fairbanks). This meal had both high (bacon) and low (cabbage and potatoes) dollar items. The steak was quite a deal as it came in a large box with an assortment of steaks, roasts, ribs and burger and we just divided the pounds by the cost and ended up paying $2.50 a pound.

Currently we have about a quarter of a pig in our freezer (we bought a half a pig last spring from Delta Meats), a hundred pounds of beef (combination of our beef box and meat from a cow my folks bought), several whole chickens, (from our cornish cross this summer) some Copper River Red Salmon fillets (from my brother), and a few packages of moose meat (from friends). When friends stop by we often send them away with eggs, extra produce (in the summer), and other farm products, ahem. In return we are often given food gifts in return, usually moose or fish. We had a friend stop the other day asking how we were doing on meat, he said he'd bring some wild sheep meat the next time he stops by.

We don't buy much meat at the store. We do buy hot dogs on a regular basis and they are the spendy kind, organic, nitrate free etc. We occasionally buy sliced lunch meat and I've been craving some quality salame. We usually buy our bacon from Tanana meats, along with getting some when we buy half a pig, but when we run out we buy it at the store. I don't know of any nitrate, dye free ham available. So while the Prairie Farm bacon is expensive and not local, it is organic and nitrate free (We generally try to consume as few cancer causing ingredients as possible). This next year I would like to raise more ducks, turkeys and maybe some geese. We hope to fill the freezer with salmon next summer.

When it comes to meat, I don't want cheap. I would rather eat a small amount of quality meat than a large amount of crappy meat. How animals are raised, slaughtered and processed is important to us. We recently watched the documentary Food Inc. We didn't learn anything new. I was already aware of the conditions of factory farms in this country. I'm not sure if any other industrialized nation has such low standards for how our food is raised and slaughtered. So once again, I'm voting with my dollar. Putting our money towards local and self grown meat as much as possible. It doesn't have to be more expensive but it does take some forethought.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Good Eating

Thanksgiving Dinner Plate

I am enjoying a cup of organic Yirgacheffe coffee and eating devilled eggs and smoked salmon, (courtesy of our hens and my dad who smoked the salmon and my brother who caught the Copper River Red Salmon this summer). Avery has been feeding me pomegranate seeds with her little juice covered fingers. I am blessed with good food. With two little ones sometimes I feel as though all I do is cook and plan the next meal. Thankfully I enjoy my job. Good eating takes an average day and makes it special. Growing our own produce, raising livestock and eating locally all add to our appreciation of each meal. With each meal we are acutely conscious of what is local (eggs, salmon) and what is not(pomegranates, coffee), where ingredients come from and how they were processed, If more people were this knowledgeable about their food we would see some serious changes in America's food system overnight. Looking at the average American family, their eating trends and attitudes towards food, I am not so optimistic.

Our Thanksgiving day was lovely. In the past few years we have made efforts to stretch the eating over the course of the day rather than consume it in a frenzy. Appetizers, soup course, main meal and dessert were spread over an eight hour time span. Here was our menu:


Appetizers:
Dad's freshly smoked Copper River Red Salmon (caught by Adam)
Marinated and pan seared Moose bites (prepared by Patrick)
Sparkly mulled spiced cider rum punch (myself)

Soup:

Scarlet Carrot Soup with fried carrot ribbons
(made by myself, recipe out of Gourmet, our own carrots and thyme, Rosie Creek Farm beets)

Main meal:

Two Wild Roots Farm Chickens brined and rubbed with sage pesto (D and I)

Cranberries sauce with carmelized onions
(mom made with self picked cranberries)

Yukon Gold Smashed Potatoes (mom's garden potatoes)
Gravy (made with chicken drippings)

Roasted Turnips with cardamom maple glaze
(grown and prepared by Adam and Tricia)

Classic Herb Stuffing (mom)

Fluffy Cranberry Salad (Adam and Tricia/ family recipe)

Sweet Potatoes baked with butter and cream (dad/ family recipe)

Pan seared fresh Green Beans with garlic
(my own garlic/ Fred Meyer beans)

Fresh baked buttery rolls (mom)

Lots of good wine, thankfully none local.

Dessert:
Pumpkin Pie and whipped cream (made from scratch (whole squash) by Adam and Tricia)

Pear and dried cherry pie (made by Dad)

Coffee


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

DEC Cheesemaking Regulation Proposal taking Public Comments

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing changes to the existing state dairy regulations. Unfortunately these changes only increase the requirements needed for a certified dairy. The law is aimed at large dairies but there are no exemptions for small home dairies. DEC is currently taking public comments until December 3rd at 5pm.

Currently in Alaska it is illegal to sell milk or milk products unless you operate a certified Grade A Dairy. The only exception is that for now they are allowing farmers to sell cow or goat shares, similar to a Community Shared Agriculture concept. Technically consumers are purchasing a share of your animal and therefore allowed to take their milk home from your property. Otherwise it is illegal for milk or cheese to leave my property.

I think that the state should be making it easier for the small farm to operate a dairy. We need more small dairies across the state providing local milk and artisan cheeses. The only way this is going to happen if you the consumer demand the state change it's current laws. Here is what you can do to help:

1. Email or call Jay Fuller with the State Veterinary office. Give a short comment in favor of exemption for home dairies from the proposed regulation 18AAC32. There has been some suggestion that if they had enough public interest, something might be done about it. jay.fuller@alaska.gov


The proposed regulation is 18AAC32.

I have tried to post the link, and even copied just as is, it is not working. I'm not sure why the percentages are there, on the address window there is a space where each percent is at so you could try leaving spaces if it doesn't work otherwise. To find this page originally I had just googled DEC cheesemaking regulation proposals and it was easy to find. http://www.dec.state.ak.us/regulations/pdfs/Cheese%20Amendments%20Public%20Notice%20Version.pdf


Monday, November 23, 2009

Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner and Goat Pictures

In this picture. Xanadu standing in front of her new home. You can see the covered outer area, Now there are feeders on both walls facing eachother. Door enters into a ten by sixteen well insulated structure divided in half with a sliding gate.

So before I begin I have to share that I am drinking a mulled spiced cider rum punch mimosa - for breakfast! Actually I had tea and pumpkin bread a while ago but it is our general breakfast time. So my reasoning for this lavish start to my day; the punch was already made and the champagne leftover from last night, and it would be a shame to waste it. Yesterday we hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner for close friends. We often get invited to Thanksgiving dinner at friends but always decline and spend the day with my family. I think we have begun a tradition of having a dinner with friends as well. We have spent the last few days cooking and cleaning, so today our house is cleaner than usual and we have lots of yummy leftovers in the fridge. This entire week and really now until the New Year is going to be filled with extra special meals and treats. So let the festivities begin.

Last night we cooked up our first duck and two of our own chickens, both about seven pound cornish cross meat birds. The duck was fresh and I'm guessing about four pounds. It was a male Khaki Campbell, a laying breed and not very meaty. What meat there was, was very good. I rubbed all the birds with course sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, tangerine zest and fresh thyme and sage. Then they sat for about twenty-four hours, the duck in the fridge uncovered and the chickens on ice in a cooler. The duck was slow cooked for a couple hours at 325. We cut many shallow slits in the bird to let the fat out . We also had the bird up off the bottom of the pan so it wouldn't sit in it's own fat. There was a layer of fat under the skin but I just peeled it off as I carved the bird. The meat was very good and not greasy at all, just tasted like quality moist dark meat, yum. The chickens were great as well. Luckily I have double ovens so the chickens cooked at the same time as the duck, but at 425. My ovens are small though so I could only fit one chicken at a time.

I made a wonderful cranberry chutney from our own cranberries both fresh and dried. We had stuffing, sweet potatoes and rolls, (the sweet potatoes were not local and I recently finished up the last of my local celery and onions so we bought those. I did make the rolls from scratch and they had a cup of goat milk in them.) I also made yukon gold smashed potatoes from our own garden and gravy from the scrapings and our own canned chicken broth. I had cooked a large Sweet Meat winter squash last week and made two pies, four loaves of pumpkin bread and some muffins. The pies were for dinners last weekend. I had however, saved two loaves of pumpkin (squash) bread for last night. As an appetizer I filled endive spears with a little goat cheese mixed with pecans, cherries, thyme and garlic. The dinner was a potluck but I tried to cover all the essentials, I thought someone would bring a green salad or casserole type dish but everyone brought dessert. So we were missing out on green beans or brussel sprouts. However dessert was not lacking, we had: a fabulous pumpkin roll with cream cheese filling, sweet potato crisp, rum cake, apple pie, cherry pie and ice cream.

To drink everyone brought wine and beer. I made mulled spiced cider for the kids with a bottle of rum on the side for adults. I was in the mood for something cold and sparkly, as the house was toasty. We happened to have a bottle of champagne on hand so I made some apple juice ice cubes and cooled some of the mulled spiced cider. Right as everyone was showing up I added the apple cubes, Sailor Jerry's spiced rum and champagne to the cider. It was fabulous. But I was the only one that even tried it, as much as I tried to force it upon others (bunch of beer drinkers!) So last night I set the bowl of punch outside and this morning it was slushy, would have been frozen solid if not for the alcohol. There was still some champagne in the fridge. I thought about saving it for tonight but thought it would have more fizz now. This is going to be my new holiday party drink and next time I make it I will measure and share the recipe.

So in other notes, here are a few pictures of the goats in there new home. These pictures were taken about five weeks ago. Now the ground has about five inches of snow on it and the trees are all frosty. So to read more about the new goat structure you can go back a few posts, I'd promised some pictures so here they are.


Zuri, my pride and joy. She is the sweetest, most affectionate doeling yet...and the spitting image of her dam who we lost this summer.

Here is the herd exploring their new home. Heated waterer to the left. Noah watching from outside the pen.

View of goat pen from our front door. Much improved.

And one final picture of the last of our indoor ripened tomatoes. We finished these off making salsa and tomato dishes daily before we left on our vacation.



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First cold snap

The kids are sitting on the couch side by side, watching Sesame Street. I should be using the opportunity to start a fire and bring some wood in, but I'd rather sit here, drinking coffee and looking out the window. This is the third consecutive day our outdoor thermometer has stayed between ten and twelve below zero. We keep the house in the mid to high seventies during the day, but I can tell it is cold out when I pass by a door or window and feel the cold coming through the cracks. Ice is building up on the insides of the windows and doors. Outside is an icy blue dawn. Snow covers the ground and tall frosty trees. Usually the bird feeders would be a flurry of action but even those are still. I filled the feeders last week for the first time this winter and thought the chickadees would discover the food within hours. The feeders remain full and still.

The goats are all keeping warm in their stalls. I haven't turned any heat lamps on yet but I will if the temperature drops. I've been spending time in all the shelters observing the animals and they are all doing fine. The biggest indicator I look for is movement and interaction within the flock or herd. If everyone was huddled up in a corner or moving around in a daze I might worry. The goats shiver outside at their feeders, but if I notice them shivering inside their stall, that is when I turn on the heat lamp. The bucks have a nice build up up hay insulating their floor and there are three of them to heat up their space. They come out during the day for grain, water and hay. At night I toss a couple flakes of hay in their stall but they still come out and eat the hay at the feeders as well. When it gets really cold the goats will hardly venture out of their stall for anything other than a quick sip of water and a short snack.

The chickens in the top coop have been closed in for three days now and haven't had much desire to leave. There are two lights with regular bulbs on timers and a heated waterer. Each day I toss down fresh hay, scatter grains on the floor and give them veggie scraps from the kitchen. We are getting about five eggs a day, if we don't collect them within a few hours they freeze solid. The chickens and ducks in the bottom coop have shown interest in going outside so I've been opening their door for them a few hours each afternoon. The ducks are the hardiest. Unlike the chickens, they actually enjoy playing in the snow.

Today I have no ambitious plans. Keep the wood fire going (once I get it started here soon), make some pumpkin bread and keep the kids content. Noah and I might get outside when Avery naps. If the kids get restless this afternoon I'll give them a bath and bust out some new toys (kitchen utensils) to play with. This time of year is easy for me, (but then I'm not the one snow blowing the driveway clear, or pumping water from the truck into the house daily, ahem.) The cold and dark bring new challenges. I find the extremes exciting. After a busy summer I'm ready for some down time. There is nothing I'd rather be doing than planning yummy meals and eating them. Wherever you are I hope you are staying warm and getting some down time on these short winter days.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winter night

It is a cold clear starry night. I just came in from doing night chores and it is about zero out. I tossed everyone hay, filled waterers and closed everyone in for the night. The does have such a nice space now. The three senior does are in one eight by ten pen and our yearling and two doelings are in the other, so that I may milk in the morning. The dirt floor, low ceiling and super insulated walls are keeping their stalls warm and draft free. We haven't hung any lighting or supplied any heat source yet and so far there is no need. Their old stall was a third the size, but since the floor was wood and off the ground and the walls less insulated, the stall had more of a need for supplemental heat even though their bodies heated up the space fairly well.

In case you've been wondering where I've been, we've been on vacation. I started a post about our trip but it is rather long and needs some editing and pictures. We flew to Florida for a family reunion and then made our way up the east coast until we got to Maine where we visited my grandparents and enjoyed some unseasonably warm sunny weather. We just got back in time for a couple days of nonstop snow fall. I'm finally feeling ready for winter and enjoying the freshly fallen snow, we've gotten at least five inches since we've been home. The temperatures have felt rather balmy, in the teens and twenties, but they are dropping fast. I hear we are suppose to get down to twenty below zero for the next week. I'm all of a sudden not feeling so ready, wait for it, brace yourself. Ah. Well, some heat lamps might be in order after all.

Other than that I've been enjoying being home. I've made a lot of yummy food in the last couple days. Today I started a batch of rolls, made a carrot beet soup, cooked up a large squash for pies and managed to bake some salmon for dinner with rice and veggies for myself and the kids as Dustin was away at work. Yesterday I made some excellent carrot muffins and bread, lobster eggs benedict and lobster leek veggie soup with goat milk, (we brought home some picked lobster from Maine). My girlfriend had a baby girl on the third while we were away. I visited her yesterday and we are headed over for dinner tomorrow. She had a home-birth in her tub on the full moon. I will always be amazed at the power women can embrace in childbirth. I wonder if in my lifetime I will ever cease to long for another baby when I hold a new one in my arms... unlikely, chicks and goat kids just are not quite the same thing, although they may just have to suffice.

There are many things I forget over the course of the summer that come back to me this time of year. Every time I step outdoors I can't find words to describe the feeling of cold crisp silence that embraces my beating warm self. The feeling that only I exist. The stars shine and the moon is lit just for me. Extremes. Opposites. Leaving the warmth of the house behind me to trudge through the snow and up the hill with the smell of wood smoke lingering behind. Caring for the animals and knowing that they are settled for the night, I return to the house, warm and lit up, to the smells of food and comfort. I love how each makes me relish and crave the other, I love to be inside cooking and toasty warm and then to go out and come back, is just so, so satisfying.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New home for goats

Today we moved the does from their stall and pen of three years to a new home. Their previous home was a good hundred yards or more up a pretty steep hill from the house. May not sound very far but trudging up the hill with a babe on the back and pulling one in a sled along with a milk pail and tote....or running up and down the hill mid winter when a doe is kidding, whew! Their new home is built onto the low side of our new addition. I've forgotten the exact measurements but it is ten feet wide and about twenty feet long. However, the main room is divided in half, each room about eight by ten, and then their is a roofed outer area with three walls, but it is not completely enclosed. The floor is dirt and the ceiling is only about six to seven feet tall. The area is designed very nicely. We can get a wheelbarrow/ cart into both areas easily. The covered area will have feeders on opposite walls. We can toss hay into the feeders from outside the gate. We've really been talking realistically about how many does we want to keep maximum as we already have six, three 3 yr olds, a dry yearling and two kids. The top number is probably ten to twelve max, but that is taking into account kids and dry yearlings. As far as a comfortable number of goats to milk, four to six is a nice number. If we started selling milk shares maybe I could milk eight does or so by hand. Really for our needs a few milkers is just fine. This new structure is over twice as big as their last home and can comfortably house at least a few more goats than we currently have.

The goats are a bit antsy/ anxious tonight. By now I'll bet they are all sleeping. The coolest thing is that every time I open my front door they are right there looking up at me. Our kitchen window looks up the hill towards the garden and former doe pen. But the goats have to be running around for me to be able to just barely see them. Having the does closer to the house makes chores significantly easier. We will be storing hay on the side of our driveway just above their pen. We can pump water into their waterer from the truck year round. There is plenty of room for covered grain storage nearby. We are planning on milking in the new addition for this winter. The area is still not completely enclosed but we do have a large wood-stove with the chimney just installed.

So our two bucklings moved into the does old stall and pen. Our Senior buck is to join them soon. He is in full rut at the moment so I'm hoping to do a bit of maintenance to the pen before moving him up. The bucklings have got to be quite impressed with their upward mobility in housing conditions and Xavier doesn't know it yet but he is about to be a very content buck as well once he has company again.

Tomorrow some folks are delivering a winter's supply of brome hay, about a hundred and twenty fifty pound bales. Currently we've got a couple large nine hundred and fity pound square bales and are on the list to pick up a couple twelve hundred pound bales as well. I'm slowly learning not to put all my eggs in one basket. Variety is key.

We have been so fortunate as far as the last couple weeks of weather is concerned. We had been getting cold temperatures and snow for several days. Then we had record breaking warm temperatures in the fifties, reaching low sixties over several days time. It was fabulous. We were so appreciative as Dustin was outside working whether at work or here working on the goat stall. We still have one batch of chickens waiting on Xavier for their winter home which will have a heat lamp and heated waterer. I was transplanting some perennial shrubs, rhubarb and chives as recently as yestereday. The ground is now frozen, I think for good, luckily the holes had been dug for months, just waiting for the right moment. Over the course of time several chickens had died and had all made it into the bottoms of the holes, I have a feeling those plants are just going to take off next summer.

In other news, we are up to eight to ten eggs a day. There are many pullets that are still not laying, just the new sexlinks are laying. Dustin just got the woodstove back in place a few days ago and we've been have wood fires from morning till night. I'm not sure how I ever go without, I enjoy them so. Wood fires bring such a warm feel to an otherwise cool dark time. It almost seems as though I can notice a difference in daylight from one day to the next. We have been losing close to seven minutes of daylight a day, which is huge! The sun isn't coming up until nine-ish and going down around six thirty or so. However, this is a hard time to be on the west side of the hill, as the sun doesn't actually hit our property until noonish. Ouch.

The dehydrator has been running for the last week non stop, drying tomatoes. I've got hot water jars in my outside fridge at the moment trying to keep our carrots and beets from freezing. We are about to move the fridge in, or can a bunch of veggies, hm... And tonight I pulled in a package of ribeyes for dinner two nights from now. We got the best deal on a local beef box. We've been buying or receiving all of our beef locally for the last few years. Dustin stopped by to buy a hundred dollar box from a new slaughterhouse that just opened up. He asked them about how much the box would weigh and they said about thirty pounds. Well he brought it home and weighed it and it is about forty-five pounds of mixed cuts and hamburger. At least three packages of ribeyes and a couple packages of tenderloin. Anyways that turns out to be barely over two dollars a pound which is a great deal. The beef is not organic, but it is local, raised on pasture in the summer months, and I believe hormone/ antibiotic free. To buy "natural"( which doesn't really mean anything) hamburger, it is about five dollars a pound.

I did take some pictures of the goats in their new home today, so I'll try and get those up for the next post. These final days before the imminent and lasting snow fall is so precious, we are scampering around in a frenzy. Our winter vacation is timed just about right. I think we will leave just as all our outside projects are completed and the snow is here to stay. We have a fabulous house-sitter who has gotten to know our house and animals over the last six years or so. Our biggest worry is exposing our kids to all the crazy illnesses while on vacation, not that I'm worried about colds or flus, but it would suck to get sick on vacation. Goodnight and happy fall days.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tomatoes Galore

Twelve o'clock and clockwise: Black Pear, Pink Accordian, Green Zebra, Black Krim, center Ida Gold, Sungold and assorted reds.

I am beginning to feel just a tad bit overwhelmed with tomatoes. We picked seventy pounds of green tomatoes a few weeks ago and they've gradually been ripening. Every few days I sort through the boxes and put the ripe ones in what has become the tomato bowl. Well then there was the bowl and a small box of ripe tomatoes, and then two boxes. I tried making sauce last week. It was the first time I've ever dunked tomatoes in boiling water and skinned them before chopping them up. It was a lot of work and I'm not sure the results were worth it or not. I had some paste tomatoes but a majority of red slicing and beefsteak tomatoes. For the last few days most of the tomatoes are heirloom and cherry tomatoes. We've got a small box of sungold cherry tomatoes. We've also got a couple nice looking Black Krim which I'm saving along with a Pink Accordian for a special tomato tart recipe. Other varieties in the bowl include Green Zebra, Ida Gold, Black Pear, Orange Russian and numerous red tomatoes of all shapes and sizes.

I've been chopping up tomatoes and serving them with garlic and olive oil (add cilantro and lime for salsa) with almost every meal, on top of salads and pasta, in tacos, with chips... I had been meaning to make and can some green tomato jam but it just hasn't been high on the list. In the past I've canned pickled green tomatoes but I still have some in the pantry. I've been holding out to begin dehydrating tomatoes. I figure that there are still a lot of tomatoes to ripen and the later ones won't be as good so I'll dry those. I'd like to have at least a gallon of dried tomatoes going into winter. There are a lot of plain red tomatoes ripening so I'll either be doing a lot of drying or some more sauce making. If it were warmer out I'd be making gazpacho or chilled tomato soup, but they've lost their appeal with the fall weather.

I'm almost burned out on our favorite easy fresh tomato pasta recipe which goes something like this:
1. Chop up a bunch of tomatoes, two to three pounds.
2. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
3. Chop up a mix of herbs, basil and parsley, maybe some oregano
4. Let the tomato mixture sit as you bring water to a boil for pasta
5. Boil pasta according to instructions, we usually use spaghetti or angel hair for this recipe.
6. While pasta is boiling grate parmesan, sometimes I pull out some capers or kalamatta olives
to add some extra kick, but certainly not essential to the recipe.

Last of all toss it all together and taste for salt once more. I usually stir some parmesan in and top with some as well. Serve alone or with buttered toast or salad. A light to medium red wine is nice, nothing so bold that it overpowers the meal. This recipe is quick, easy and fresh. We make it several times over the course of the summer. The tomato juice and olive oil combines to make a very nice sauce.

Well, it is October and we finally have a plethora of tomatoes. It has been a long wait. We no longer have our own fresh cilantro or basil so I just broke down and bought some cilantro from the store. We go on vacation in a few weeks so we'll be eating as many tomatoes as we can stand for the next couple weeks and then I'll dehydrate the rest. If anyone has any great tomato recipes that are not too time consuming and use up lots of tomatoes let me know. Tonight we are having navajo tacos with refried beans, cilantro coleslaw and tomatoes. Tomorrow I'm thinking pizza with the cooked tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes on top. We have a favorite tomato tart recipe that I'll be making soon. It has a rich parmesan crust filled with tomatoes, fresh basil. capers and kalamatta olives, mmm.