Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farm chores at ten below

 This morning our thermometer read ten degrees below zero, which isn't super cold for here - although I have to say I wrapped a scarf around my face for the first time this winter, so colder than it has been. At ten below zero, you can see where the heat escapes from door cracks.
 Self-portrait. You can see my scarf is frosting up a bit. My eyelashes were getting just a bit wet and sticky. At twenty below eyelashes really start to build frost, and nose hairs get a little icy - not there yet.

 Ducks get fresh water... check. Plastic is brittle at these temperatures, so I have to be careful not to drop the lid or it will break.

Our milking area is unheated for now, although we have an uninstalled wood-stove sitting next to the milking stand. The first few streams of milk almost solidify as they hit the cold pail, the splatters that reach the sides freeze quickly. My bare palms stay warm with the action of milking, but the outside edge of my hands get cold.

 This is how I chill my milk in the winter. Milk cooling off while I milk the next goat.

 Fresh water for goats. Check.

Mother and daughter, ah.

And that was my morning out with the animals. Water and food to all. Milk and eggs to the house

Friday, November 26, 2010

My kids love broccoli

 I wish I had taken some pictures of our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, but I was too busy cooking, serving and eating. We are having a second special meal tomorrow with my family and eating our own thirty-one pound turkey, and since I am just one of many contributors to the meal, I'm thinking I'll get around to some picture taking.

As I sat down to homemade macaroni and cheese tonight, I was thinking of how quick and easy it was to make and how tasty it was. Like most kids, my children LOVE macaroni and cheese. I do usually keep a couple boxes around for emergencies, but I don't feel very good about feeding it to my kids; too many additives, preservatives and "natural flavoring". In the past I've made a one pot cheesy pasta dish that includes boiling noodles, making a cheese sauce, steaming vegetables and then I usually finish it off with an assortment of flavor enhancers; pine nuts, lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata or green olives, capers etc. Well, I've had to tame it down for the kids, but I've found that I still enjoy the basic version as well, and leaving out the olive chopping, lemon zesting, pine nut toasting and dried tomato soaking, really cuts down on the time it takes to make it.

I haven't followed a recipe in some time, and tonight I made a mini-batch, as I didn't need any more leftovers in the fridge. Tonight I almost opened a box of mac and cheese... just the kids and I... did a lot of cooking yesterday... I knew they would eat well...but instead- after setting a pan of water on for noodles and steaming broccoli, I:
  1. I grabbed one extra pan, tossed two TB. butter in till melted
  2. Whisked in two TB. flour till mixed
  3. Slowly poured in one cup milk
  4. Added a pinch of sea salt and stirred occasionally while
  5. adding the noodles to the other pot, broccoli and put it over the noodles to steam - set timer
  6. By then the sauce was thickening and I had grated two cups of sharp cheddar cheese- add cheese
  7. Taste for salt and pepper, turn to low while waiting for noodles and broccoli.
  8. When broccoli is fork tender (4-5 min) take off, drain noodles when done and add everything to the cheese sauce.
Obviously this is just a jumping off point, but what I am trying to share is that this took me no longer than making the mac and cheese in the box, just one extra pot and a trip to the flour bin and some cheese grating. I use to add fresh thyme, bay leaves, onion and nutmeg to my melted butter while making the cheese sauce, and it does take it to a whole new level of flavor, but it adds time. Also, my goal has been to create something very similar to what the kids love about boxed macaroni and cheese, it is simple and cheesy, (and doesn't taste like onions).

I've been wanting to touch on the subject of feeding children and how we do so. This is a touchy subject for many parents, and I don't want to come across as preachy, but I am opinionated about most things and this is one of them. In general I find that parents are too easily inclined to feed their kids whatever they will eat, just happy that they are eating anything. I feel like I could write a book on feeding children and establishing healthy eating patterns, but I'll try to keep it simple tonight. My kids are great eaters and I know that it is because we started them off very carefully. When I first started introducing the kids to food, I did my research on what to feed when. They started on steamed and pureed fruits and vegetables, ground rice porridge and then gradually added in eggs, beans and nuts at the appropriate times. I never added extra salt or sugar to their food, they don't need it for a while. Once they get use to our food with all the salt, butter and sugar, that is what they are going to want, but you can keep it from them at least while they are babies and young toddlers. We waited till our kids were well past a year old before introducing meats or dairy.

There is no reason to introduce items like candy or cupcakes until it is completely avoidable. The first several parties I took my kids to they were drawn to fruit platters and toys and were completely oblivious to the cake and extra treats as they had no experience and didn't know what they were missing. Noah knows what candy is now and gets it on special occasions, but Avery doesn't have experience with candy, she does know ice cream and cookies. For quite a while I would eat sweets in front of Noah and tell him they were for adults. I didn't feel like I was depriving him or lying, it just wasn't something his little body needed. It was the same thing I'd say if he reached for my wine, beer or coffee, nope, sorry, and he went with it for quite a while.

My kids eat poorly when there is company or when we have dinner elsewhere. They tend to throw fits when they are too hungry. So, feeding them ahead of time and staying on top of keeping them well fed are key in having them eat well and accepting what is for dinner. I have had to compromise my cooking. I don't cook exactly as I would if I were cooking for adults. I don't like noodles much, but the kids do, so I throw noodles into all kinds of soups that I wouldn't otherwise, and even if they pick around something at least those noodles soak up all the vegetable meat broth. My kids really have a hard time with Indian food, so I keep thinking I should make it more often, but instead I've been avoiding the struggle.

We don't eat dessert on a regular basis, more of a special occasion/ company sort of thing. I like it that way, I don't want my kids to expect sweets after dinner, or only eat well if they know there is a reward at the end. If I am making something I know isn't going over real well, that may be the night I mention a cookie or ice-cream, although I try to use wording that disguises the bribe.

I've learned a couple tricks for when my kids are going to throw a fuss about the oncoming meal. Sometimes I will sit down with a plate of food and just start eating and the kids, wondering why I'm not forcing them to the table with a plate of the same, will come to investigate. I'll explain that I didn't know if they were ready to eat yet, and they will insist they are and so I'll say, "ok, well why don't you just try a bite of mine first". And after feeding them several bites off my plate and being reassured that they have enough food in them not to break down, I will get them their own. Another more desperate tactic I use to use on Noah when he refused to eat anything (he was two), I would sit down with his dinner and read him a book. For every bite he would eat, I would read him a page.

When the kids start making faces and say they won't eat something on their plate, I tell them to start with whatever they do like, and that at least improves their mood. We do play games sometimes, I pretend their food on the fork I'm holding is a fish and they catch it. Finally, I often find that if dinner doesn't go over so well and they get down to play, I can just pop bites of food off their dinner plates and into their mouths once they are playing and they don't even pay attention to what is they are eating. It could be something they were throwing a big fuss over at the table. Which reminds me, often just sitting at the table with food in front of them provokes a confrontation. So, when food isn't too messy or they just need a break, I'll let them eat at the coffee table, outside (when it is nice), or sitting at the stairs, and that starts the meal out as something special.

 Avery and Noah, eating dinner tonight. Both my kids are pretty good about eating vegetables. We cook most vegetables just until tender, and rarely eat canned vegetables. They both love broccoli, so I buy it year round, even when it is very non-local and non-seasonal. As much as I enjoy striving to eat locally and seasonally, feeding the kids puts a whole new twist on things. They can only eat so many beets and carrots before growing bored. They love peas, broccoli, peppers and cucumbers. So we ate our hearts out this summer, especially on our own peas and broccoli. Lately I've been buying peppers, snap peas and cucumbers and the store, and while I always think, wow this cucumber has come a long way, I don't feel bad about buying it. The last time I was at the supermarket, each child picked out a colored pepper and that is what they wanted to eat in the back seat on the way home. Noah ate his entire orange bell pepper on the way home and Avery had a harder time without me slicing it for her. The time before that I bought a bag of frozen shelled peas and Avery asked for them as if they were candy as we made it up and down the aisles. Finally, we made it to the truck and yes she ate handfuls of frozen peas the entire way home.

We grew a lot of broccoli this summer. I don't care for it frozen much so we ate broccoli every other day from June to September. We did take a break but now we are back at it. It is no where near as good as our own, but is a healthy addition to our diet anyway. Above the kids are pretending to eat at one of our later heads of broccoli. So heres to healthy kids eating and enjoying real food, Cheers!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ice storm pictures

They are calling this ice-storm a historic event in Fairbanks weather history. This is the most rain precipitation we've had in winter since 1937. This is our third day in a row of freezing rain. The temperature seems to be dropping. We had some snow flurries this morning, intermingled with freezing drops of rain.

Today I'm beginning Thanksgiving preparations. We are having our big Turkey with family this weekend. Tomorrow we are having friends over for a less elaborate meal, provided that the roads are safe to drive on. Today we are killing some male ducks for our meal tomorrow. I am going to boil the duck and then roast it, I've read that when you boil it, the fat dissolves into the water and out from beneath the skin of the duck, so it won't be so fatty. Today I'm starting rolls, cranberry salad and making cranberry chutney with our own cranberries, onions and garlic. I'm going to bake a pie, but can't decide what type. We'll also have mashed potatoes- our own Yukon Gold potatoes, and traditional stuffing. That covers the main bases for me. Our are bringing a pear nut salad, cookies and a winter squash dish. Should be delightful. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Freezing rain and power outage

We are having some crazy weather here in Fairbanks, and the rest of the state as well. Above normal temperatures and humidity have our snow melting and turning to slush - not something I would have expected before next April. The temperatures climbed into the mid thirties yesterday. Fog hung thickly as icy rain drops fell throughout the day. Everything is coated in ice, the ground is slushy with a crunchy topping. Dried blades of grass, raspberry canes, trees and fencing are all sheathed in glass. The ice hangs so heavily from the trees that even the tallest strongest Birch trees are bowing over under the weight. You have only to step outside for a minute to hear the sound of ice laden branches snapping and splintering, then crashing to the ground.

We don't usually have weather that shuts down town. In my four years of high-school here, I recall school shutting down a couple times, never because of heavy snowfalls or the cold - (directly) , but because of the ice-fog that prevented visibility that resulted from the extreme cold temperatures. In my four years of college, I don't ever remember classes being canceled due to bad weather. Yesterday and today the public schools are closed as is the University. Also, all state jobs, public pools, the library, city meetings, everything is closed. All because the roads are coated in a sheet of ice, making driving treacherous.

Yesterday we took advantage of the conditions to stay home, roll huge snowballs, suck on icicles, (we rarely have snow wet enough for snowballs nor icicles), and I cleaned out the chicken coop, as it was warm enough that the bedding was soft and mushy rather than a glacier of hay and manure. We were feeling thankful that we had no need to leave the house. Content to be isolated from the rest of the world with enough wood, food and water to stay warm and well fed for months if needed, (so we'd run out of fresh fruit and shower less).

Last night we were curled up on the couch watching the new Robin Hood, and the power went out. We don't have many power outages, and when we do have an outage it is usually caused by a summer storm, and remedied within the hour. When the power went out last night I was thinking of all the ice heavy trees and ice heavy power lines everywhere, and if electric crews would even venture out onto the roads before the conditions improved. We lit some candles and Dustin busted out this little energy bank - I don't know what he calls it - I think of it as the red magic box, anyway we plugged the vcr and tv into it so we could finish our movie. At the time we were feeling a step ahead, ha ha, we can still watch our movie. In retrospect, if we had thought the power might be out for a day or two, we should have saved the energy for a higher purpose.

As the night went on without the power coming back on we started to go into emergency mode. The power flickered on briefly a few times and D filled up pitchers of water from the sink. We stopped using the toilet, and enjoyed going outside for some fresh winter air, looking up at the canopy of bowed glass trees and listening to branches splinter and crash in the surrounding woods. D built a fire before coming to bed. I woke several times throughout the night to the sound of frozen rain hitting snow. In the summer I welcome the sound of rain, but now, the foreign sound of freezing rain is ominous. Losing our insulating cover of snow at a time when it could be thirty below tomorrow, is dangerous for the plants and animals. I can't help but feel sorry for the trees, struggling to remain standing under the weight of ice.

Our power came back on around seven a.m., just about the time I was laying in bed thinking I should take the three gallons of milk out of the fridge and put them outside. The fridge is full of food that would spoil, but all I could think of were my gallon jars of raw goat milk and how maybe I would have to use it all today. I heard the dog growl, followed by voices outside sounding amplified the dark winter night. Then the motion light came on outside, I heard the fridge kick on, and little lights flickered on, blinking throughout the house. I am thankful for electricity. It would have been a peaceful day without it. I would be emptying the fridge into coolers and clearing a path to the outhouse this morning without it, but there are plenty of extra chores today as it is.

When I hear of winter storms, freezing rain and power outages occurring, it is usually elsewhere in the country, east coast or somewhere else far away. And I'm usually like, whew, glad I live in Alaska. We don't have hurricanes, tornadoes, freak storms, floods, or other weather conditions that shut down power or close down the town, we mostly just get some serious cold temperatures, but we prepare for the cold, expect it and continue our lives regardless. Well, we've got serious snow to shovel around here as both roofs slid during the night. If we don't shovel today, it is going to freeze solid and we'll be chipping at it by the end of the week.

I'm looking forward to our own cured and smoked bacon for breakfast, working on a knitting project after I'm too sore to shovel anymore, and rolling some more snowballs today while the snow lasts, or before it turns to ice.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Carrots and beets and rain - oh my.

Awoke to the sound of snow falling off our top roof and plopping onto the lower roof by our bedroom window. I lay in bed thinking of all the frozen carrots, beets, turnips, jars of milk and soup, all sitting around in our natural freezer, also known as outside... I guess when I heard that it was suppose to rain today I should have taken action and moved things into the chest freezers. Thankfully it is just above thirty degrees, so things are still frozen.

It actually has been raining this morning just as predicted. It is a slushy sloppy mess - chores are going to be wet today. Fortunately D was thinking ahead and took the snow blower to the driveway yesterday.

On Saturday Noah and I dug the last of the frozen beets and carrots out of the hay pile. It was never my intention to let them freeze, I'd hoped to have room in the fridge for them by the time the temperatures dropped. Now that they are frozen I thought I'd just leave them outside and bring them in as needed, but the voles were beginning to nibble. So I thought I'd bag them up and stick them back outside, or as of now, into the chest freezers. Thankfully, the beets cook up well and I can't even tell they've been frozen. I just scrub them frozen and boil them till tender. The carrots, I've also been scrubbing and peeling while still frozen and then using them for juicing or soups as soon as I can cut them, or cooking them whole. While not as good as fresh carrots, at least they'll not go to waste.

The last couple winters we've had fresh carrots from our garden up until January and even February, but we had a second fridge taking up precious room in the house, and packed with root vegetables. This summer we had carrots and beets ready for eating so early in the summer, that we ate them all summer and didn't end up with much of an end harvest. We ate most of the colored carrots fresh, these are mostly Bolero, a storage carrot and some Early Sugarsnax. I'll be growing a lot more carrots and beets next summer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

One of my favorite blogs does Wordless Wednesday posts, sharing pictures that speak volumes. Another blogger I am inspired by does weekly gratitude Friday posts, sharing what she is thankful for. I appreciate the simplicity and directness of mostly picture posts, and I tend to be too wordy. So I don't know if this will turn into a weekly routine or not, but here is my - for the most part- my wordless Wednesday post

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First cold spell

Well we are getting ready for the our first real cold spell of the winter. Today it is zero at our homestead, although I'm guessing it is more like ten below zero in town and in the low lying areas. They are forecasting lows ranging from fifteen to thirty-five below zero over the coming days. Luckily we live in the hills, and we face away from the Tanana Valley, which makes a big difference as far as temperatures go this time of year. The cold tends to settle in the valleys and the warm air rises. Also, the south facing hills that butt up against the expansive low lying valleys are at the fore front of the cold air. Whereas those of us further back in the hills are buffered from the extreme cold - a small comfort this time of year as we fore-go the few hours of direct sun which south facing properties still receive.

Cold temperatures in the forecast have most of us thinking, yep guess it's about time, we are in Fairbanks, Alaska after all. At least we have a good six to eight inches of snow cover on the ground to protect the perennial plants. When it gets really cold we hunker down, keep the wood stove blazing, eat lots of hot food, and don't leave the house unless we have to. Tomorrow I'll be taking the kids to the library for our weekly story time, regardless of temperatures - small children must leave house occasionally for everyone's peace of mind.

I've been getting the kids outside each afternoon, even if it is just to get all their gear on and toss them out till their hands get too cold (in Avery's case; ten minutes). Yesterday the kids and I cleared the snow off the back porch and then went sledding. The snow was too deep for good sledding, but we worked on packing down a trail. I pulled Noah on the sled while running with Avery (who was fussy but didn't want to go inside) on my hip.

Today we are receiving Azure Standard and Frontier ordered goods. I have been eagerly awaiting the Frontier order. It is the first order I've placed since realizing how great of deals we could get through the wholesale buying club. I ordered a couple hundred dollars of essential oils to use in making lotions, lip balm, bug repellent, tooth paste, mouth wash, cleaning products, soap, and various other skin products and herbal treatments. First on my list to make is a nourishing and gentle face cream, followed by lip balm. My skin is fine most of the year without any special care, but this time of year my face and lips are more dry and irritated than usual. I've been out of most of the essential oils I rely on, as I've been holding out on buying any for this big order. Essential oils not only add fragrance to products, but depending on the oil, some have antibacterial and antifungal properties, in addition to providing various other therapeutic qualities.

Other than starting some crafts and gift ideas for the Holidays, I won't be doing too much exciting around here other than hunkering down and enjoying the beauty of winter from indoors, where we are toasty warm and well fed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Me and Meat

I was raised on lentils, rice, vegetables and Tillamook cheddar cheese. We lived in Oregon until I was ten years old and my memories of meat are: roasts at my Grandmas on Christmas, Ham on Easter, Turkey at my Grandparents for Thanksgiving. It was a financial decision more than anything else. My parents were struggling to make ends meet. They didn't buy meat or processed foods. My mom grew a big garden and my dad fished and hunted when he could. My mom bought legumes and grains in bulk. My dad raised bees for honey. My mom cooked everything from scratch, baked our own bread, made yogurt, canned and preserved fruits and vegetables. So there were many kitchen practices that helped out the grocery bill, but the one I felt that set us aside from what I saw as the "average American family", was that we didn't eat meat.

Once we moved to Alaska our diet began to change. My family still didn't buy meat but my dad hunted more, mostly Moose and Caribou. Living in a small Yup'ik village in south-west Alaska we were served all kinds of new meats; beaver, porcupine, swan, geese, duck, seal, whale and all sorts of fish.

When we moved to Fairbanks and I entered high-school my mom started keeping chickens for eggs and meat. I still don't remember seeing meat in the shopping basket, except the occasional package of hot dogs. Moose took the place of beef. We never ate pork, except in the form of bacon a few times a year. I rarely remember eating steak or ribs. I had my first pork chops a few years ago when D and I bought a half a pig.

Correct me if I'm wrong mom, but it seems like we we only ate meat a few different ways. My mom would cook up ground meat in spaghetti sauce, or season it for tacos. We would eat chicken in casseroles and soup. My dad would slice steak meat thinly and flour and fry it in a pan till it was well done and serve it with ketchup and pan fried potato slices. I grew up fairly grossed out by raw meat. I went through a faze where I enjoyed making stew and biscuits for dinner. I would try to touch the meat as little as possible- or better yet get someone else to cut up the meat for me- handling meat was completely foreign and repulsive to me.

When I moved out of the house the only meat I bought was big bags of frozen chicken breasts from Sam's club. I would microwave frozen chicken breasts till they were cooked through and then chop them up and make peanut, red or green curry or chicken stir-fry. Otherwise I would cook vegetarian meals or buy burgers from a fast food joint.

When Dustin and I started dating in 2001, he was a vegetarian who had also been a vegan for a number of years. We were both working in food service so the majority of our meals were eaten at or brought home from work. We lived off the salad bar at his work. When we cooked meals they were vegetarian, with the exception of occasional Alaskan seafood. Our meals relied heavily on dairy to get our protein intake. For a couple years while we were building our house, we lived off of organic vegetarian microwavable meals (talk about an oxymoron).

For a couple years, up until I was expecting Noah, I managed the kitchen of a small bakery/deli. I ate two meals a day there and usually brought home dinner in the form of soup, sandwiches or salads that I'd made at work. I ate meat at work or when we went out for dinner. When I was expecting Noah I craved meat and unfortunately because I wasn't eating meat at home, I'd break down in town and go through drive-thru's for burgers. I felt immensely guilty for eating fast food while growing a baby, so much so that I remember crying while confessing my fast food indulgences with the midwives. We didn't feed Noah any meat or dairy for his first year. I wasn't sure how I was going to keep him away from meat as he got older and was exposed to meat away from home.

By this time I was staying at home and cooking most our meals from scratch. I tried to get as much protein into our meals, combinations of beans and rice, eggs, dairy and nuts. Our holistic doctor was concerned with our protein intake and had us taking additional B complex vitamins. With our active lifestyle; building our house, raising a baby, hauling water, chopping wood etc. we were always exhausted and hungry. We started looking into local meat options. Dustin went fishing for salmon and halibut. Friends gave us some moose and other local game. After researching Delta Meat and where their animals come from and how they are raised, we bought a beef box. Soon after we started looking for local chicken options but were not able to find any. We began buying a small amounts of meat from the supermarket labeled "organic" and "free range" etc., but the living conditions of the animals and how they were killed and processed, were a big concern for us.

I spent the winter researching dairy goats and chicken breeds.  In the spring we bought our first goat kids and laying chicks. By fall we were finally getting our own eggs. By the next spring we had our own milk and cheese. Things just went from there. Next we were raising extra chickens for meat, buying heritage turkey poults and dreaming of pigs, geese and honey bees. I'm still dreaming of geese and honey.

Me and meat have come a long way. It took a while to realize the irony of buying organic fake meat products with thirty ingredients I couldn't pronounce, and thinking we were eating healthier than if we were eating real meat. I do think people can be healthy without eating meat or cheese or eggs, but they either need to live in a city where there are plentiful eating out options, juice bars, Indian food, raw food restaurants and so on. Otherwise you need to be diligent with your menu planning and bean soaking.

If you have been following along you know that we eat a lot of meat now. We are raising all of the chicken and turkey we consume. We had friends raise a pig for us this year. D catches all of our salmon, and friends give us halibut and cod.  We are also given moose and caribou. So where does that leave us? Buying the occasional beef steaks or hamburger from our local meat market. We also buy salami, organic pepperoni and organic free-range beef hot dogs. Now I handle our meat with respect, pride and appreciation. I enjoy cooking with meat. This fall I cured and smoked bacon and a ham. I ground pork, caribou and turkey and made various types of ground sausage and links. I was thrilled to have such fresh quality meat to work with.

As a young child I often thought of myself as deprived, me with my brown paper bag lunch with thick brown bread, homemade jam and homemade yogurt. How I envied the kids with cool lunchboxes, bologne and fake cheese sandwiches on white bread, bags of chips, artificial fruit snacks and store-bought cookies. I recall more than once my lunch being viewed with skepticism and the topic of discussion at the table.

Well, what can I say? Sorry it took so long for me to realize that you, Mom, are my hero in the kitchen!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kids and Kitchen

I'm lacking in pictures, so here is one taken from this fall - no I don't still have lovely huge heads of broccoli sitting around. I made a broccoli soup concentrate and froze several quarts. Now I can just thaw a quart and add milk and cheese - voila! Cream of Broccoli soup.
We've been getting into a winter rhythm around here. The kids have been spending most their time playing indoors, so we've had to start taking them on outings; to the library for weekly story-time, to the pool for open swim and to gym playtime. Art supplies were on the grocery list today as the kids have used up three sets of paints recently - they get up to the table multiple times a day to play with home made play-dough, paint, finger paint and color. I'm hoping to get into a short afternoon school routine with Noah. Currently sitting down with him and working on holding and using his pencil correctly, counting, simple math and letter and sound recognition is a random weekly event. As we are planning on home schooling next year, I'd like to take advantage of this slow time of year to start the school routine.

The day temperatures have been hanging out in the teens and twenties. Everything is covered with a thick beautiful frost - trees, fencing and mesh netting all outlined in crusty frost. The animals all seem to be doing well. The goats have healthy thick coats. I've bred four does (to bucks-ha) as of today. At least one more to go. We are getting about six to eight eggs a day - pathetic for keeping twenty layers under two years old. We just started getting blue green Ameraucana eggs for the first time in a few months, from one and a half year old birds that had been moulting - forever. We also have a couple Ameraucana pullets that haven't started laying yet.

I've been busy in the kitchen. I usually cook at least two meals a day from scratch, but these days I've been fitting all sorts of extras into the middle, more homemade snacks, treats and specialty breads.  Lunch is often leftovers from past dinners. Breakfast is often  previously made muffins or other quick breads. I've been baking our daily sandwich bread for sometime, but lately I've also been finding time for new bread recipes, french baguettes, crusty hearth loaves, light sandwich rolls and today I made cinnamon raisin bread. I also made cheesy wheat crackers today. I would make crackers more often if they kept better, but they lose their crispiness within a day or two. I've been making more elaborate meals. I made lasagne this week and was wishing for a pasta roller - it is not often I feel up for homemade noodles. I've been stocking up on snacks for the kids, fruit nut bars and wholewheat oatmeal cookies.

I have to be sneaky about getting things done in the kitchen without help. It can be rewarding and enjoyable cooking with the kids, but everything takes so much longer and is messier. I have to work on staying calm and patient, especially when I have a kid on each side fighting over who stirs and adds each ingredient. Last week I forgot to add the salt to a couple pumpkin pies. Luckily I remembered in time to stir it in to the un-thickened custard.

While I am enjoying spending my days cooking good food, I feel like I never have anything lasting to show for myself - more dishes to wash. In my spare time I've been reading - more time spent without anything to show for myself. So I brought home a book on knitting hats last week. I'm not very crafty. I've crocheted and knitted a few things here and there, but it takes all my concentration and effort to follow basic patterns and lingo. So I'm trying to find a simple project to start on. I want to make things that are going to last, and be used for a while and not just devoured and gone. It's that time of year, time for me to move on past mopping, organizing and cooking and get down to something more challenging. What projects are you finding time for these days?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This summers onions, leeks, shallots and scallions

I don't know what I would do without onions and garlic. Leeks and shallots are kind of a special bonus, I enjoy their different flavors. We begin almost every dinner meal by peeling and chopping onions and garlic. With the amount of onions I planted and tended all summer, I should have had enough onions to last until next summer, but I don't. I planted three sets of a Copra storage onion, about sixty to seventy plants per set. I planted the onions in four different locations in the garden, so some were in the hottest sunniest place in the garden, and some were lower down on the hill where it was cooler and moister. I didn't notice a difference between the different locations, however there was a huge difference between how the varieties grew. I also planted Ailsa Craig, which is a sweet white onion that supposedly gets large enough to be an exhibition onion but does not store well. I planted one set of red onions, a couple sets of leeks and a small amount of shallots. The Ailsa Craig and the red onion actually grew to decent sizes, unlike the Copra which grew to about golf ball size and then sat there for the rest of the summer. I've had the onions hanging and drying indoors and just took them down last week. I bagged up the storage onions and have them hanging in mesh bags under our house, which stays in the high forties low fifties. I'm guessing I hung about twenty pounds of golf ball sized Copra onions, I'll use them and be thankful - but peeling tiny onions is more work.  So for now I'm stoked to be cooking with the full sized sweet onions. I may have to chop a bunch up for freezing, dehydrating or preserves as I'm not sure they are going to keep much longer. I'm guessing I've got about thirty pounds of Ailsa Craig in two baskets to be used up over the next month or two. I did dehydrate one batch of sweet onions, they taste surprisingly sweet and have a nice texture. I saw a recipe that ground up dehydrated onions and mixed them with sour cream - or I'm thinking chevre, for a chip/cracker dip. I've also been thinking of making a carmelized onion preserve to go with roasts or meat dishes.

Shallots were a complete failure. I ordered a half a pound along with my onion order, but they shipped separately- so shipping them cost more - so an indulgence that I had high hopes for. I planted them in early May and covered them with plastic. They started off growing well and early in good soil. Then a hard rain came along in June and they were all flattened, never to make a comeback and start growing again. They started rotting at the base, so I pulled them and dried them, but most of them were rotten on the outside and barely usable. I love shallots, and usually splurge for shallots at the store this time of year, especially for squash soup. But this year the onions are so tasty, I haven't been missing them.

The leeks grew pretty well. We were pulling a few here and there for soups as early as late July. They stayed in the garden until we had a couple frosts, and they were looking droopy. I spent a couple afternoons cleaning leeks. I chopped off the tops and froze a few two gallon bags full, to pull out and use for stock. I also froze a few gallon bags full of the white parts. I just finished off using a bag of fresh leeks, so I haven't pulled out any frozen ones yet - my first time freezing leeks, but supposedly they didn't need blanching, I'm wondering how they will slice up, maybe I should have sliced them and frozen them in serving size bags. Leeks are kind of a frivolous crop. It would be different if they could stay in the garden all winter and I just pulled a few whenever needed. But as they take up precious summer garden room and then, most recipes just call for the white part, and they take a lot of time to clean...well I love having my own leeks around, so I'm enjoying them in soups this winter.

I was thrilled with the scallions this year. I love scallions. I almost always have fresh scallions in the fridge - they are a staple on the grocery list. I sowed them around the first of May and covered them with plastic. They grew really well, and we harvested them as needed from late June to late September, four months of my own scallions, and the ones picked in August and September were huge. I've grown scallions in the past and tried getting a jump start by starting them indoors and transplanting them, which is tedious. So direct sowing them was the way to go. I'll be planting twice as many, and more varieties next year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Turkey Butchering

We finally got around to butchering our Broad Breasted White turkeys a couple weeks ago. We had intended on doing so earlier in the season, but it was just one of those things that kept getting put off. I had no idea that they were going to weigh as much as they did. The smallest Turkey was an eighteen pound hen. There were two twenty-five pound toms and one thirty-one pound tom. We raised Heritage Bourbon Reds a couple years ago and they had looked similar in size, but the largest turkey we had then was eighteen pounds.

We gave one twenty-five pound Turkey to our friends who raised the pig for us. We smoked and grilled the eighteen pound bird while it was still fresh - after brining of course. I cut one up into pieces, freezing the breasts separately. I ground up the thighs and the drumsticks - the later being a pain because of all the large tendons. We froze the largest Turkey for Thanksgiving, although maybe I should have ground that one up as I'm not sure it will fit in the oven and I am concerned about trying to get the whole thing cooked evenly. There has been talk of a fire pit/ spit rigged up especially for this bird. We saved the hearts, necks and feet to add to the carcasses for stock.

 I enjoy having the Turkeys around. I enjoy their sounds, and watching them strut their stuff. They seem smarter, hardier and better foragers than the Cornish Cross. I'm thinking I'd like to raise more turkeys next year.

Because of how cold it was we did the plucking and gut removal indoors. We've learned from experience that it is challenging to pluck birds fast enough before they cool down too much when the temperatures are in the teens and twenties. D killed the turkeys up the hill, moved them down the snowy trail in a wheel barrow, dunked them in hot water using a metal trash can over a propane heater. Then brought them and we plucked them in a large cooler, before I laid them out for the final touches. After rinsing the dressed carcasses, we piled them in a clean metal trash can in icewater and left them outside over night. Then I brought them in and dried them off, weighed and wrapped them.

I just pulled in the first couple packages of ground turkey from the freezer. Looking forward to turkey avacado burgers tomorrow.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My kids and Halloween

Today is my Birthday. I'm starting out the day on the couch with the kids - trying to decide what to make for breakfast - wishing I'd pulled some bacon out to thaw yesterday. I have big plans (for me and for a Monday - I get out of the house about once every other week without kids and usually it is to go to the supermarket for some solo grocery shopping). I'm going to my first yoga class since last winter, followed by lunch with a girlfriend, (we are going to a sushi restaurant that I just discovered this weekend with D, and haven't stopped thinking about since). Gonna follow that up with a bit of fun shopping- birthday money- clothes for myself. This evening we are heading out to my folks for local steaks, non-local green salad and wine. The kids will have a blast running around at my folks and fall asleep on the way home, which should leave a little time at the end of the night for some couch- movie time with me hubby. I do like Birthdays. I like to focus on celebrating our lives and accomplishments rather than focusing on being a year older and whatever age we are turning. That being said, I am thirty-one today...and at one point in my life I thought that twenty-one was going to be the climax of my life, ha ha.

We had a fun filled weekend already, so it feels like the party is never ending. This past weekend has been in the making for a few weeks now, and not because we are big on Halloween. We have some close friends that had suggested we take turns watching our kids this weekend as they wanted to go out together, and D and I have been wanting to go out together, it kind of just worked out that it was Halloween weekend - not the most romantic weekend to go out. So on Friday night we watched their daughter, who is three, and gets along really well with the kids, I was surprised at how great she did, spending the night away from her home and folks. Saturday we had kid parties all day. Then that night our friends came over and watched our kids and spent the night here so we could go out to dinner and to "our" bar (where all of our close friend were, either working or having a good time). I enjoyed seeing everyone dressed up, it was more entertaining than I thought. We were some of the only couples not dressed up, but everyone was excited to see us out together that we were easily forgiven.

Halloween is a tricky Holiday for me when it comes to the kids and what we tell them. For the most part the kids are still in the dark about what goes on, they don't know about trick or treating yet. They do know that people celebrate by dressing up for fun. I try to protect them from scary things, or subjects that are challenging to explain, how to explain where witches and ghosts come from, and why people use these images to celebrate this day. I think dressing up year round is a fun thing for small children, so we were all about stalking up on some costumes. Avery got a bee outfit, a ballerina and a fairy costume. Noah has a knight outfit, a pirate and a dragon costume. They have been having fun dressing up for a couple weeks now. We went to two kid parties, and both I regarded as appropriate for small children; homemade food: pumpkin soup, sandwiches, fruit salad, cake decorated with raspberries, pumpkin muffins, (no food coloring - no candy). The kids don't know to expect candy yet, and why should they when they are excited about fruit leather, pomegranate seeds and clementines.

Both parties were decorated with cob webs which Noah asked about. I tried to explain how some people like to decorate with scary things and they think of old houses as scary-and old houses have cobwebs. Earlier in the week we talked a little about All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, and the history behind the two Holidays, but drawing the connection between that and all the gore, vampires and blood and ghosts we see today is a stretch. I don't think Noah gets it, or is impressed at all. There was a kid dressed as a ghost, and one as a vampire, but Noah didn't ask about what they were suppose to be. I think he thought his costume was way better, after all he had a sword (knight). How do you explain ghosts and witches to a four year old. We stay away from scary stories, scary movies. I don't want them worrying about death, or monsters, or having bad dreams.

My children are fairly well grounded in reality. When they ask me questions, I try to give them honest but simple answers. My son asked me why I don't like witches. I told him that by dressing up we kind of glorify them, or make them something to joke about, or feel comfortable with, and that is not ok. We talked a little about the history of witches, and how some people don't think they exist and that is probably why they can joke about them. We talked about herbalists and healers being called witches. I left out the dark magic, and burning and drowning people thought to be witches. I tried to leave him with the idea that I didn't think they were appropriate for kids, just as I don't think anything scary is, and they also are not something to be played with or pretended about because we shouldn't feel comfortable with them.

Last year the topic of ghosts came up. An adult was surprised that my son did not know about ghosts. What I had a hard time explaining was that telling my three year old that ghosts are white blobs that say "boo!", is not going to cut it. Broaching the subject of ghosts demands a much more thorough explanation, that I don't think a small child is ready for. We have talked about death and what different people believe. Noah knows that some people believe that when our bodies die we are buried and we provide nutrients for animals and plants and continue the cycle of life. Many people believe that we leave our bodies behind, and our spirits go to heaven, and we've talked about heaven. And some people believe that we are reborn as other animals or people. I told Noah that some people believe that ghosts are people's spirits that are here without their bodies, but I didn't say that they are something to be feared. He had asked about ghosts last Halloween, and hasn't brought it up since so I don't know if he even remembers. I don't remember the conversation leaving much of an impression on him. I tried to state things very matter of factly, and not make it into a big deal.

I want my kids to know all the facts, to know what different people believe. I want them to feel comfortable with the natural cycle of life and death. I take the spiritual and supernatural world seriously, and I want the kids to drive that area of learning and those conversations when they are ready. Halloween is very much in our face. It is pretty much inescapable. I think we made it through this Halloween fairly well. We should be able to celebrate whichever aspect of a Holiday we deem appropriate. Dressing up and being silly is about as much as my two and four year old need. Whew, it is going to be a lot simpler to talk about Christmas and the birth of Jesus.