Friday, January 14, 2011

January Days

We grill year round, even at ten - twenty below. D says at thirty below the propane freezes and the gas grill won't work. We've grilled close to that temp and it has worked fine. We've also smoked salmon when it has been below zero, which must be something similar to cold smoking. Yesterday I cooked pork ribs from our pig. I put a rub on the ribs, then grilled them for a couple hours to get a nice smokey flavor. Then finished them in the oven, moping them and finally a homemade sauce. They were tasty. Fortunately we had some friends stop by, and between us we managed to devour them.

January does, plump and content for the most part. Just wish we were on that south facing hillside, soaking up the rays.

It has been a while since I took a picture of our eggs. The chickens are picking back up in production. We are back to having enough give to friends and family and occasionally sell to Home Grown Market.

Got motivated to make some body products the other day. Half the work is just pulling out all the supplies and narrowing it down to one recipe per product. Or in this case, I've been waiting for some containers. I made lip balm and put it in clear lip tubes, metal slide tins and small clear tubs. I also made a body balm bar and put it in push up tubes.

I've been low on lip balms and moisturizers, but having the ingredients to make some have been putting off buying anything. For the last couple months I've been using a tube of cocoa butter and a bottle of minimally processed coconut oil for everything, lips, face, hands and body. I really like carrying around the tube of cocoa butter as it is like a chap stick tube but a little bigger, but I use it like lotion. It is firm until I rub it between my hands and it melts and softens just enough. I wanted to make something like it but add some other moisturizers and some therapeutic essential oils. I followed a simple recipe, 1 part coconut oil, 1 part beeswax and 1 part cocoa butter. I added various essential oils to different tubes, some for dry skin, some for oily. Some with essential oils for sun baked skin and some with bug repellent oils for summer. My favorite essential oils combination's for myself are lavender peppermint, tangerine peppermint and lavender sandalwood.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this much lip balm and moisturizers. I'll save enough for myself to get through till next year at this time. I've put the majority in the fridge, as I haven't used any preservatives other than essential oils, I'm guessing they'll only keep 6 months or so at room temperature before going rancid.

I also made, mouthwash, deodorant and a refreshing facial spritzer. Next on the list is soap, which we are low on. I've got some comfrey root soaking in oil to make a healing balm with.

 Finished scarf. First time I've knitted something I was proud enough of to give as a gift. I'm knitting a miniature scarf for Avery with the rest of the yarn from her hat.

It didn't occur to me to make sure the thermometer went low enough when I was shopping for thermometers this fall. Well, looks like it won't get colder than twenty below here this winter.
Happy dark winter days everyone!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Junior Does

Yin is our problem goat at the moment. She will be three years old this spring and has yet to be bred. She is our only goat I've had a hard time catching in heat. She spent month in with a buck this fall, without noticeable results. I'm beginning to think she is a dud. Nice looking though, I think... She is out of Xoe and Lew.

I have a very simple website (which is under construction) with pictures and information about our LaMancha herd. I have been neglecting this site and haven't updated it since last spring. I recently thought I'd remedy that and begin uploading some photos of the junior does and bucks. The site editor that I've used in the past without issues, has been giving me all kinds of trouble. In addition, the hosting service is saying that I'm trying to publish too much, even after deleting a bunch of stuff to make room. To top that off my buck page is completely missing. Not sure how that happened. Beings that it wasn't much to begin with, I'll take that as encouragement to do a better job this time around. I'm at a standstill trying to decide whether to pay twice as much for the next package up. Or just organize this blog so that it is easier to find goat pictures and lineage history. Or do something else altogether.

So, my temporary solution is to post some pictures of our junior does here and link to it from my doe page. If you've been following a long for a while some of these photos may be familiar.

Above and below, Zuri. She is bred to Zanzibar, due to kid March 25th
Zuri is out out Maggie and Lew, both Lucky Star Farm kids
She is looking really good right now - for January. So I'll try and get some better body shots. Maggie was our strongest doe, so I've got high hopes for Zuri. I can not wait to see her udder. If Zuri has a doeling, I will be very tempted to keep her.

Avalon, pictured above and below, is a 2010 doeling out of Xanadu and Xavier. We have decided not to breed this years doelings, despite their obnoxious and obvious behavior during heat cycles. 
We are planning on breeding the 2010 girls next fall.

Asia, top right and below. Asia is out of Xoe and Xavier. Xoe, while a lovely doe and dear to my heart, does not have the nicest udder (which really shouldn't make a difference except in the show ring or maybe in old age?). Although milkers with big hands will appreciate her large teats. So, I am eager to see how her daughters udders differ from hers once they freshen.

 Zinnia is a 2009 dry doe. She is out of Rose, to her right, and Lew. Rose has been our highest producer and most consistent milker. She also has the nicest udder out our three senior does. For most the summer and fall I was getting almost a gallon, 7-8lb of milk. I just dried her off as she is due in mid March. Zinnia is bred to Zanzibar. She is our first doe due to kid, March 11th. Zinnia is pictured in the two pictures below as well.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Garden Reflections

I am beginning to dream of summer. Barefoot muddy children running wild, the heat of the sun on my bare arms, and green things growing everywhere. I received the first of many seed catalogs this garden dreaming season - and it is a Fedco! I'm not ready for it to be summer yet, not ready to work that hard. I'm still enjoying last summers potatoes, onions and garlic. I still have a couple winter squash, lots of frozen tomato sauce, canned green beans, frozen broccoli, leeks, kale, beets, carrots and lots of frozen vegetable soups.

Looking back at last summers garden, there are a few things I would have done differently and will remember for this coming garden season. Not having enough mild summer greens early enough in the season haunts me still. I was too preoccupied getting a head start on more exciting vegetables like tomatoes and squash, that I somehow missed the early salad green boat. Having crisp and tender greens when all that is really ready is greens is essential. I planted way to much bitter greens and hardy greens such as endive, escarole, swiss chard, radiccio, tatsoi and other mustard greens, arugula, as well as too much spinach. I do succession plant greens, probably three times over the course of the summer. This past summer I got too early of a start on the final planting. So by late September, early October, my late hardy greens were flowering and too bitter to

Everything else seems minor after dropping the ball on early salad greens. This was my first summer eating beets and carrots by the end of June. We enjoyed carrots so much all summer that by the end of September there were not a lot left. Carrots and beets have got to be our favorite winter vegetables. So, this summer I'm going to sow beets and carrots in early May, and then again in early June. The early harvest for summer eating, the late sowing for winter storage.

We love peas. I planted thirty feet of peas and between snacking on them and eating peas fresh for dinner, none made it into the freezer. I'd like to grow enough to have some frozen. I can't imagine ever having too many peas.

There are some things I plant because they do well, but we don't eat them, like turnips, rutabagas, radishes and to an extent, bitter greens. I love that they thrive in our cool climate. Radishes are the jewels of the garden, red, pink, purple and black. Once washed they glisten and shine. And yet, once they are in the fridge I avoid them. I like them occasionally when they are young and tender. We braise them a couple times a summer with butter, onions and greens. For the most part, I plant way too many of them. So, unless I plan on shredding them for the goats, which I never get around to the shredding part, way less radishes, turnips and rutabagas.

We had a moose eat several cabbage heads, a goat eat several cauliflower plants. So I think fencing might actually take priority this year.

Leeks, onions and shallots took up a lot of room this year. As much as I adore leeks and shallots, I may resist the urge the order them this year. I planted three sets of Copra storage onion, and they didn't get bigger than golf balls before they stopped growing and stood at a standstill for a couple months before I pulled them. Looking for a different storage onion this year.

Some vegetables we had just the right amount of for once, enough for eating our hearts out plus enough for preserving or winter storage. I planted to four by six raised beds of green beans and planted provider and bountiful along with just a few others for variety. I also sowed them earlier than usual and covered them with plastic while they germinated, they were up before June 1st. I planted ten pounds of potatoes and still have quite a bit. I mostly planted Yukon Gods and German Butter Balls, both great all purpose potatoes. We don't eat a lot of potatoes. I planted about two dozen heads of broccoli, including Romanesco, and that was about perfect. We mostly just eat it fresh all summer, although I freeze a small amount for soups. I planted at least six different types and the main advantage was that I started them all at the same time, but had a staggered harvest from June to September.

I didn't realize till the end of summer that I hadn't grown enough thyme, basil and oregano. After harvesting and drying the last of the basil and oregano I had less than a pint of each. Not sure how that happened.

Those are my main thoughts as far as what to plant more or less of. We had a nice early start on just about everything but squash. I'd like to build a couple more covered beds, hot frames or cold frames for squash and cucumbers. You might recognize some of these photos from this past summer. I couldn't help pulling them up again as I dream of summer days to come.

 Lunch in the garden

I can almost see the warmth hanging in the air. The night I took these last to shots was right around solstice. It was one of the balmiest nights of the summer, low eighties. Just perfect. Avery took a bath in the garden, after trying to catch a chicken. We looked for raspberries. I can't remember if there were a few ripe by then or not. 

As far as looking forward, I am eager to pick our first ripe strawberry. This fall Becca and I dug up and transplanted established Toklat perennial strawberries from a friend's garden. We planted a three foot by maybe twelve foot row. Eventually I'd like to have a strawberry plot four times this size. I also planted a row of Boyne raspberry canes, which didn't look like much going into fall, but I have high hopes that we'll at least get a few ripe berries this summer, in addition to our wild raspberries that already grow all over the property.
What changes are you going to make to your garden this summer? What are you most looking forward too?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What compost pile?

Between the dog, the goats, chickens and the worms, there isn't much leftover to keep a compost pile. We do have various piles of chicken and goat bedding in stages of composting which are certainly compost piles so what I'm really referring to today are the food scraps that come out of the house, and how very little leave these premises due to our living composters.

The dog eats well around here. She gets first dibs on most table scraps. Chana pre-cleans most plates. She gets the kids leftover PB sandwiches, egg and meat leftovers. She'll eat vegetables as long as they've been cooked in butter, meat stock, or garnished with cheese or butter. If I deem something too rich or fatty for the dog, the chickens get it. Or in the case of bacon trimmings and fat, the chickadees get it.

I've been promising a post on dog food for a while. Before we ate meat, I use to make a vegetarian dog food loaf made of rice, grains, lentils, vegetables and some flavorings, like ketchup and a little soy sauce. Now I make chicken, duck and turkey stock on a regular basis, so I take the vegetables and little bits of meat left, add rice and mix that together for dog food. When I cook eggs for the family, I make extra for the dog.  Chana gets so many scraps now that dry dog food just fills in the gaps when she hasn't gotten enough scraps. I know a lot of people don't feed their dogs table scraps or human food for various reasons. I think that as long as we are cooking real food from scratch, then her diet is healthier than one consisting solely of stale dehydrated dog food made from leftovers unfit for human consumption. The drawback to her diet is that she probably gets more salt and fat than she needs. This summer the vet approved of her diet but did say she could loose some weight, so I've been more conscious of dolling out the meat scraps and leftovers over a couple days rather than feeding larger quantities at once. She is in good shape this winter.

The chickens average a gallon bucket of scraps a day. This includes bread scraps, dinner scraps the dog didn't get, smashed egg shells, old milk and cheese, and all the vegetable scraps that don't get saved for stock. The only thing the chickens don't get are poultry leftovers. They don't care much for onion peels or citrus rinds. Two items I haven't figured out what to do with, since I read somewhere that onion peels make stock bitter. I've done a bit of cleaning with leftover lemons and such. I'd say onion peels and citrus rinds are about the only food items that do get tossed into existing compost piles. Unfortunately, they don't break down very well and often show up on the hillsides or in the driveway. I don't feed any animals food that is rotten or very moldy. Limp, a little slimmy, a few spots of mold, the chickens seem to be fine with that.

The ducks are pickier than the chickens. I usually just give the ducks greens, fruit, like old grapes, and uncooked freezer burned salmon. The ducks get a lot less scraps than the chickens.

The goats get vegetable scraps only. No dairy, no meat, nothing cooked, nothing spoiled or moldy. The goats get the nicest vegetable scraps, and they are the pickiest, as they should be. Some scraps the goats enjoy are anything leafy green like beet greens, radish, turnip tops, root vegetables, beets, carrots, turnips and rutabagas preferably cut up, ends or shredded. Although we have been tossing in whole turnips and rutabagas and they gnaw on them. The goats get the pulp from juicing vegetables in the juicer. The goats eat all our leftover banana peels and some other fruit scraps, like apple cores. Occasionally the goats get stale tortilla chips or raisins as treats.

 The compost worms are the most neglected of our living composters. I just give them fruit and vegetable scraps, although I've read you can give them occassional coffee grounds, tea bags and even paper. They don't like citrus or onions. I always give them the melon rinds and squash rinds. They prefer softer fruits and vegetables although eventually the firmer vegetables will soften and get eaten as well.

This leaves not a whole lot left to make it worth keeping an extra bucket around for a food compost pile. We should get better about saving our coffee grinds for the garden. I go through fazes of keeping a coffee ground bucket. When I'm lazy citrus rinds and onion peels go in the garbage, otherwise they make it outside into some pile. I haven't figured out what to do with chicken and turkey bones after I've already made stock with them. The dog digs them up if I bury them.

I've gotten better about not wasting food. I've started cooking broccoli stems up in stirfries. Saving carrot, celery stems and thyme sprigs for stock. When we kill birds, we save the feet and sometimes hearts and necks for stock. Everything we don't use goes into the compost pile. The dog doesn't seem to like raw bird intestines. The fox does though. We have a nice looking fox that enjoys our compost pile. Fortunately it has never gone after one of our live birds. We may regret this at some point. In the summer we dig holes in the garden for the bird scraps. I figure some blood and feathers in the compost pile is better than buying blood and bone meal from who knows where.

I prefer to return our efforts into the land, whether it is limp salad greens going into eggs which then turns into poop for the garden, or dead animals going back into the ground which then provides nutrients for the garden. It makes sense to keep our scraps here, and bring in less extra processed feeds for the animals. I enjoy my morning ritual of tossing banana peels out the front door to the does below. There is always something to be said for diversity in a diet.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Sauerkraut

If you enjoy sauerkraut and don't already make your own, you should. It is a simple process, and the results will most likely be tastier and healthier than if you buy it. Traditionally sauerkraut is a fermented food, cabbage and salt fermented to make a vitamin rich food that keeps well. If you buy sauerkraut at the store, look for key words like RAW, and KEEP REFRIGERATED, PERISHABLE, NO PRESERVATIVES etc. Otherwise the sauerkraut either hasn't been fermented or has been heat treated to kill off all the healthy bacteria. The ingredients should be simple, cabbage and salt. Of course you can add other spices, herbs and other vegetables which will give you a variety of lacto fermented sides dishes or condiments.

The process is simple. Shred cabbage with a knife or whatever, food processor, mandoline, etc. Toss with salt. 3 TB. of salt to 5 Ib. of cabbage fills a one gallon crock. I just guestimate, as you can see above, my cabbage must have been a couple pounds.  When I put the shredded cabbage into the clean crock, (use glass or ceramic, not metal)  I add a few handfuls and then pack it down with my fist, and continue on until all the cabbage is packed in. Then I weight it down with whatever fits on top. I'd rather avoid using plastic, but this  lid in the above picture fits just about right. In the past I've used a gallon freezer bag filled with salt water (in case it leaked, but it never did) to weight down the cabbage. The goal is to have a layer of brine over the cabbage to prevent mold from forming in the sauerkraut. However, it often happens that a little mold grows on a piece of stray cabbage on the inside of the jar or at the edge of the brine. I just scoop it off. The sauerkraut remains untainted. I cover the crock with it's weight with a clean flour sack, or dish towel and set it somewhere in eyesight but out of the way. You don't want to forget about it, as I have. 

It is recommended that you check on your cabbage the following day to make sure that there was enough liquid from the cabbage that, mixed with the salt, it created its own brine. I must say that I rarely do this and tend to just trust that all is going according to plan. If you've used a cabbage in good health, sprinkled it with salt and packed it down firmly, the salt should draw out the moisture from the cabbage and produce a sufficient brine. However, if you notice the following day that the liquid does not cover the surface, make a small batch of salt water brine to add to the crock. Or, pour in just enough purified water to cover. Or try pressing down on your weight and often that does the trick.

Usually I find that I can forget about the crock for the first week. Unless your house is really warm, you might want to check on it sooner. Otherwise I take a nibble at a week and then every other day till it is to my liking. I prefer a slightly crunchy sauerkraut. This summer I let a batch go too long. It had nice flavor but was a little mushy. My last batch went ten days and had both good flavor and a bit of crispness to the texture. When it is done fermenting I pull it out of the crock and pack it into glass jars and put it in the fridge. If you have a basement or root cellar that stays cool, you can probably store it there. It keeps almost indefinitely, especially if you don't reach into the jar with dirty utensils.

I think Sauerkraut is the introductory for many of us into the world of fermented foods. Other fermented adventures you may want to explore are kimchi, sauerruben, pickles, pickled veggies and other veggie ferments. I've bought and attempted to imitate a fermented salsa they use to carry at our health food store that was fabulous. I wrote about making lacto fermented or pickled veggies last spring, a fairly detailed post so here is the link if it was before your time. If you are interested in knowing more about fermented foods I highly recommend the two books that first got me started: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I should mention that the first book has a salt free recipe for sauerkraut along with different herb/spice combinations you may want to try.

Wishing you all an enjoyable January filled with relaxing kitchen projects.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

I made the mistake of climbing into bed at exactly midnight last night. There was such a constant stream of loud fireworks that I'm thinking Ester, a small town across the valley from us, may have done their firework show at midnight. We can also buy some pretty impressive fireworks here, so throughout the night I heard folks setting off bombers, or balls that shoot up and explode in the sky. At least there is no fire danger this time of year, and it is dark so we can see them, unlike Fourth of July here.

My husband was working, the  kids were fast asleep, and I'd stayed up watching the last two episodes of the BBC series Daniel Deronda, which was very good. I could feel a cold coming on, so I drank ginger root tea and kombucha all night, while taking echinacea and a homeopathic remedy every few hours. I still woke up with a painful sore throat this morning.

I think last night was the first New Years Eve of my adult life that I felt I was not missing out on anything by being at home, awake by myself as the new year rolled in. In past years five years I've spent most New Years Eves at the house with the kids while Dustin works. I've often felt like I was missing out and wished I could be elsewhere celebrating with adults, watching fireworks, toasting with champagne etc. As I climbed into bed I wished I had gone to bed a half hour earlier so I wouldn't have to wait for fireworks to die down. I didn't even peek out the window to see if I could catch a glimpse.

I had ventured across town to my folks yesterday, looking for some company and diversion for the kids. The kids were excited to see their grandparents and play in a bigger house. I hadn't realized how hard it was snowing, and the temperatures had warmed up enough that the snow was turning to ice on the windshield and wipers. I had to keep the wipers going on high, and the truck defroster on high to be able to see out the window. By the time I'd made it to the other side of town it was dusk and I could hardly see the road. I had this sense of dread that I was headed the wrong way. Thinking it was not a good night to be driving with precious cargo, on bad roads with who knows how many inebriated drivers out, I turned around and headed home.

After eating soft corn tortilla tacos, one of the kids favorites, they had a special treat of blood orange sorbet. Noah pulled some of the simple pull pop fireworks on the back porch. We finished off the night with the Disneys Robin Hood, also one of our favorites.

Today, if the kids will allow, we may take down our paper Christmas tree. Other than that, lounging around, drinking tea and eating clear broth soups is about all that is on my list. Happy New Years to each of you.