Saturday, January 30, 2010

January Yummies

Absolutely, the best part of doing all that canning in the summer and fall...potlucks in the winter. YUMMY.

Tonight we are going over to our friends house for our monthly (sort of) documentary night potluck. I am making bbq chicken with a sauce that has its base in the delicious homemade ketchup that Becca and Seth and I made this fall. I am also bringing a jar of dilly beans to snack on. I might even bring some brownies if I get off my duff, of course they won't have anything canned in them but they might taste good anyway.

Here's the recipe I made up for the bbq sauce...I was inspired after reading recipes online and then I just did my own thing. (Can't seem to follow recipes that well.) The sauce tastes good, bet it will be even better when it cooks into the chicken.

Ok, first I brined the chicken for a couple of hours in water (2 quarts, 2 T. salt--I used that delicious pink himalayan salt I love but I suspect any coarse salt would be good and 2 t. dried thyme).

I stuck that and the chicken (in this case drumsticks but any would do I am sure) in a gallon ziplock bag and put it in the fridge until I was ready to cook them. I did a couple of hours but even 15 minutes would surely help the chicken taste better and be juicier. If I was more of a garlic girl I would have smashed up a couple of garlic cloves (that is if the clove is the piece not the whole head of garlic) and put that in their too. I am not a big garlic fan so I saved my garlic for the sauce.

Then I made the sauce. I started with a pint of that delicious ketchup we made. It is not too sweet and full of savory goodness. If I had to use a commercial ketchup, I might cut down on the sugar and add more spices.

Then I added:

1/4 c. sugar (or brown sugar)
1 T. black strap molasses
1 T. salt (same kind as in the brine)
1 large garlic clove smashed
3 T sliced/diced fresh ginger
2 T balsamic vinegar--if I had had wine vinegar I might have chosen that
1 T olive oil
1 t. bacon grease leftover from a 14 yr old boy cooking his breakfast (optional)
1 t. dry mustard powder
1 t. paprika
1 t. thyme
and I meant to add a chopped onion but I do what you want.

I cooked this mixture over medium heat for about 20 minutes to join the flavors together and then later when the chicken was all brined, I drained the chicken and put it in a 9 X 13 in pan, covered it with the sauce. Right now I am baking until it is all hour maybe--it would depend on the size of the chicken pieces. So far, it smells delicious! I am going to assume it is as good as it smells but if it isn't I will tell you tomorrow. Ok, off to do the dishes before we leave.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Seeds and dreams....

You know what I LOVE about January...seed catalogs. In January the garden is all about possiblity. It's a way to try new things, start over. All the wrongs I have done in the past can be forgiven with this new garden. In January, I have high hopes. I even believe that this year I might just weed. I might just give plants enough room to properly grow. I might, I might, I might. By June reality has set in and I am back to my usual ways. Luckily my usual ways, while leading to rather untidy gardens, work pretty well.

But meanwhile, in the long, dark nights of January I sit near the fire with a huge stack of seed catalogs and dream. It's wonderful. I have such big ideas.

This year I am especially captivated by Wild Garden Seeds in Oregon . Last year, every single seed variety I grew from their catalog was a rousing success both in taste and vitality. I only wish they grew more kinds of seeds--they specialize in greens and a few herbs. I would buy all my seeds from them if only I could. It's amazing what the difference GOOD seeds make. I didn't know how much of a difference until I ran into this catalog.

Sadly, I think my other favorite seed catalog -- Fedco Seeds in Maine was lost in the mail. I love that company. We have been buying seeds from them since the mid 80's. I love the seeds and the wide variety they have. I especially love how they are trying to change the world one gardener at a time. Another thing I love about them is how they give a discount for large orders. By ordering in bulk (aka a group order with your friends) you can save significant money and build community at the same time. Sweet.

Every year I try to experiment with some new kind of plant. Last year I dabbled in cabbages and this is what we got. Amazing. We made the best sauerkraut. Yum.

My goal this year is try to grow a small plot of grains, which we can then feed to the chickens for some of their food. The plan is to grow oats so we can have both the groats and the straw for their nesting boxes. I am excited to try something so completely different than anything I have ever grown before. I even bought a book to help me learn. It's called Small-Scale Grain Raising and looks really good. Hopefully I will read it BEFORE I start planting. It would be like me to just wing it and wonder what happened later. But seeing how it is January, I still have hopse that I might be different this year. Ha ha.

Monday, January 25, 2010

January Madness

Okay, I admit it. I was a total fool today. The sun was shining. It was WARM. Really warm. Enough to take off the sweater and bask kind of warm. And so fooled by this gorgeous March-like weather, I got out my garden fork and turned over a bed. The soil was fluffy and perfect. It called to me like a siren. In a moment of weakness, I succumbed.

I got out the seed bucket and planted kale, mustard, collards, lettuce, winter greens, swiss chard, spinach, bunching onions, winter cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, carrots and beets. (Okay, it was more than a moment.) I planted the whole shabang. Ignoring the biodynamic practice of planting things at their proper times I put entire packages of seeds in the ground (and in the hoophouse). I talked myself into this after looking at the sorry shape my original winter garden was in after that long, hard freeze we had last month.

What WAS I thinking? It is FREEZING out there now. If it were really spring this Hellebore would have already bloomed, not merely starting to bud.

Seriously, right now (a mere 3 hours past planting), it is a beautiful starry night and the ground is frozen tight.

All I can say is I was struck down by a case of January madness, the kind of crazy that infects the minds of true blue Pacific Northwesterners when they get a sunny day in January and the weather report is predicting a few more. We forget that this is still winter. We forget that sun is a temporary kindness and do stupid things like jump in the lake to swim (brrr, my kids tried that one) or plant entire packages of seeds with high hopes only to remember a few hours later that January is NOT planting season no matter how nice it seems.

Oh well, since this is an El Nino year, I guess I will just call this bit of temporary insanity an experiment and see how things do. It will be nice to have a comparison of things planted in the hoophouse with the things planted outside. I'll let you know if anything grows. Tomorrow, in the next bit of sun I am going to remind myself that the kiwi plant needs pruning. That will surely keep me busy all day long and then I won't waste any more seeds.

ps news report--Brigid was NOT pregnant again, but she was ripe for another AI treatment. We will see next time. Hopefully, the third time's the charm.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Mattie Loves Steve more than me....

I am trying hard not to take Mattie's preference for Steve personally. She is my cow, or so I thought. I carefully saved up my extra grocery money (money saved from growing things in the garden) and then researched exactly what kind of cow I wanted.

Lots of time on the internet, and on my farmer/biodynamic lists made me know that I wanted an A2 cow, as opposed to an A1 cow. Milk from A2 cows is far less prone to cause milk allergies in folks (and people in my family are proned to allergies). I wanted a heritage breed with a sweet temperament. I wanted a cow that had been handled and loved and didn't need taming. I wanted a big cow that gave a lot of milk. I wanted a cow that I could fall in love with. And I wanted a cow that would fall in love with me too.

Mattie is a former 4-H cow, who follows without a lead rope (at least for some people--like Steve) and is sweet as can be. She's a full-blood Guernsey so she gives LOTS of extra nutritious milk. (Guernsey milk has more vitamin A than other milk, so much so it is even tinted a bit yellow!) Guernsey's used to be common but are now rare (filling my heritage breed desire) and are almost always A2. So it seems I got almost everything I wanted in Mattie but the problem is that Mattie LOVES Steve. Honestly, this isn't much of a problem if she would only love me too. But she clearly prefers Steve. She much prefers when Steve milks her, feeds her and handles her. I am so the hired help.

I mean take milking for an example. For me, she stomps and kicks and gives a little bit of milk. For Steve, she might kick a bit to start but then settles right down and gives a LOT of milk (unless I walk in the barn and she starts kicking again.) She lets Steve handle her and is much more fussy towards me. She likes me well enough from the other side of the stall door giving her hay but the second I walk into the stall she much prefers Steve. Two people commenting on her interactions with the lot of us have suggested that she's jealous of me and wants Steve all to herself. Sorry girl, I got him first.

I got to thinking about it though and maybe it makes sense that she likes Steve better. Mattie was raised from a calf by a teenage boy who wanted her to be the best 4-H cow he ever had. His brother just had a cow go all the way to the National cow fair in Madison, Wisconsin. Mattie was related to this cow, so he had reason for his high hopes for her.

All her life before she came to us, Mattie was loved, and fed and brushed and trained by a boy who wanted her to be the most beautiful cow at the fair. And you KNOW how devoted a teenage boy can be to the one he loves. Everyday, he worked with her, talked to her, cared for her. And his mom Vicki (the woman I bought Mattie from) cared for her other cows in the background. Then the boy went away to college and left Mattie behind. Mom took over her care. She was kind but she was busy and she wasn't Mattie's boy.

Then suddenly Mattie and her little calf Moose are on a truck being away hauled to a new place without all the cows she had lived her whole life with. So now she's lost her home, her friends AND her boy. Life kind of sucks, even if the new folks are nice.

She gets out of the trailer and meets me. But unfortunately, ever so human things have caused the boy's mom to be hours late delivering Mattie and suddenly everything is a rush. This meant I didn't have the first few hours to properly welcome her and help her settle in. Instead, we lead her in the barnyard with Brigid and Gilly and then we all rush away. By the time I came back she looked a little dazed. New place, no friends and the new cows had horns.

Mattie didn't like that. In fact, she refused to eat (Guernsey's are like that.) And so we had to give her her own pasture and she isn't part of a herd. Cows love to be with their friends.

It took us a couple of weeks to figure out the best arrangement for all of this. So each day, Mattie and I negociated change after change while Steve was the steady one who came each night late and gave her an extra flake of hay and a nice scratch on the head. No wonder she likes him better. On some level, he has to remind her of her devoted boy.

So when it came down to milking and you were Mattie, who would you choose for your favorite? Good ole' reliable late night treat man, or wacky change woman who can't make up her mind about which place you get to live or what is the best way to feed you. The answer is pretty obvious, pick good ole' reliable treat man. And that is how this is sorting out (at least for the time being). Steve comes late at night, brings treats and milks her and I do the middle of the day stuff.

I suspect she feels like I am the cleaning lady and Steve is the crown prince. I am not sure who she thinks Aidan is, the morning stable boy? Oh well, at least we all know our places. And Mattie is surely the princess in all this. One thing I know for sure, there's no way for her to be queen, Brigid has that role more than filled.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I own a cow (or 4)

Owning a cow is kind of a big deal. Well, I guess not even kind of. It is a big deal.

To begin with cows are just plain big. If you live somewhere like I do where you have to feed them 9 or 10 months of the year, they can be expensive. If you aren't careful they step on your feet when you are trying to move them around (my foot still hurts from the last time one did 6 weeks ago) and well, they aren't like a dog that comes in out of the rain and lays by your feet and snuggles. They need a covered space in bad weather. And they make a lot of poop that has to be dealt with.

Granted, a fresh cow will give you delicious fresh milk but you have to milk her and that my friends, while relaxing in many ways, is no small endeavor. You have to be home at the same time everyday. You have to separate them from their baby (which neither mom nor baby enjoy) and you have to milk them.

To milk them, if they are a full sized cow like Mattie, you have to get over your fear of how big they are and how small you are in comparison. Because one thing is for sure, if the cow figures out that you don't think you are boss she will do her darndest to make sure she is boss. And boss cows aren't particularly nice.

So why, given all this, was I so determined to have a cow? I had two reasons--one I used to buy raw milk from my cheesemaking neighbor down the road and got positively hooked on the wonderful feeling my body had when I drank REAL milk. Julie's cheese went big and she stopped selling milk. I tried buying raw milk in the store but it just wasn't the same. There is something about one cow and her milk. It is just different than drinking milk all mixed together from a dairy full of cows. Funny as this sounds, having a relationship with the cow seems to enhance the relationship of the milk with my body. One of those things we just don't think about any more in our ever so modern world. It seems like every step of modernization gives us things and but also takes things away. In the case of dairies, we have a LOT more milk than we used to but the quality has gone way down.

My other reason was I am a compost nut and every good gardener knows that compost goes better with manure, esp cow manure. Brigid gave us some nice manure, esp if we were willing to trot about the pastures picking it up. But Mattie, Mattie's my girl because she happily donates massive amounts right there in the stall and all we have to do is scoop it up and make compost. Since she's been here we have made one gigantic compost pile and sheet mulched 3 good sized areas for new garden beds. And that is just in six weeks. Think how much compost she is going to help us make when she's been here a year. I can't wait.

But in the meantime, I am going to take her delicious milk and turn it into homemade kefir and make myself a delicious breakfast smoothie. Here's how....

First get a quart jar and put the kefir grains in them...if anyone wants to try this and doesn't have access to kefir grains let me know, I can grow some extras and send them to you.

You need about a tablespoon of kefir grains per quart of milk, but they keep reproducing so sometimes you will have more and the kefir will make itself faster. Once you have a couple tablespoons, divide the grains in half and share with a friend. These grains (in the picture) are about ready to divide. And while they may look gross, these funny little grains voraciously eat the sugars in the milk and form a powerpacked delicious way to build your intestinal flora and add calcium to your diet. If you have only tried keifr from the store don't be so sure that you know what it is like. Homegrown kefir out of fresh raw milk is an entirely different taste than anything I have ever bought. No matter how good the store kefir package made it sound, raw homemade is better.

Once the kefir grains are in the jar, add a quart of milk and cover with a good fitting lid. Place in a warm spot and leave be for 24-48 hours (depending on how warm it is and how many kefir grains there are). When you walk by give the jar a gentle stir and watch how the milk gradually thickens and turns into kefir as the time goes by. Once the kefir sets up, remove the grains by running the kefir through a strainer and start the process over. Put the fresh made kefir in the fridge until you are ready to use it. If you leave the grains in too long, the kefir grains get hungry and start making the kefir taste too sour. (It is kind of sour to begin with so too sour is not good. You can eat it, but it won't be as yummy.)

To make a breakfast smoothie, here's what I do.

Into a blender or cuissinart I put:

1 c. fresh kefir
1 t. honey (for its superfood qualities)
1 cup homegrown frozen fruit (my favorite is peach or strawberry)
1 raw egg from my chickens (I know some people would leave this out, that's ok. It is good either way)
1 T. fresh cream (thank you Mattie)--I do this for a health reason (long story)

Then for extra nutritional gumption I add:

1 T. maca powder (another superfood, this time from South America)
1 T. fish oil (this is the only way I can get this stuff down)
2 T. noni (another superfood)
1 T. aloe vera juice (another superfood)
and then I add any other supplements I might be taking that come in powdered or bad tasting forms, for example I might add cal/mag powder and/or extra probiotics, even though fresh kefir is super high in them, I know they are good for some stuff I have going on so I throw them in as an extra precaution.

Occassionally, I add some acai which is another South American superfood.

Then I blend this all together for a long time--2-3 minutes. I blend it so long because the smoothie gets super creamy and tastes almost like ice cream and we all know how much I like ice cream. I put it in my car cup and drink as slowly as possible (sometimes it tastes so good I gulp it down). Yum! And the best thing about these smoothies is how flexible they are..if you like bananas--add one. Hate fish oil, leave it out. It's up to you and no matter what it is probably going to taste really, really good. If you try it, let me know how you like it.

And I was serious about the offer for kefir grains. They are easy to mail around.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beyond slacker, I am becoming shameless....

I just read on my neice Katy's blog Silly Tater Tot that her friend Katie (aka Chocolate Covered Katie ) is having a giveaway on her blog...and the prize is something I have ALWAYS dreamed of getting-- a vitamix (have you ever had frozen banana and almond 'ice cream' made with a vitamix--omg, to die for).

Anyway, I am shameless enough to do what Katie asks to get some extra entries in her contest. Post a chocolate covered recipe on my here you go, my favorite chocolate covered dessert or breakfast food depending on what you define as breakfast (definitely more healthy than a chocolate crouissant!) And this recipe is easy as pie so you might like it too.

First you have to start with good chocolate...that's a must and the darker the better, that is if you can stand DARK chocolate. Since I consider dark chocolate a necessary health food, I have no problem thinking this dessert, I mean breakfast is food! Read about chocolate sometime if you don't believe me--even raw foodist David Wolfe supports eating chocolate. In fact he even calls it a superfood . He's my kind of guy.

So to make this breakfast (aka dessert), which we have yet to name, you need only 4 ingredients...sounding better all the time right? And you don't even have to bake it.

Here are the ingredients I use...

--Dagoba chocolate bits --dark (though if I am making this for the kids I throw in some semi-sweet too so they will eat it--all dark is kind of strong)

--Organic unsweetened coconut flakes (superfood number two)

--Raw, unpasturized certified organic almonds from Anderson Almonds (a really sweet old man will sell them to you over the phone and they arrive nicely boxed and not irradiated just a few days later). Chop them well so they are nice little chunks--I do mine in the cuissinart.

--Chunks of coarse himalayan salt (or other good mineral filled salt)

To make: gently toast the almonds and coconut over low heat. I do them in separate pans because they take a different amount of time to toast. Then toss the nuts and coconut flakes together in a bowl. A raw foodie could skip this step and just ignore the fact that the chocolate has been cooked.

Melt the chocolate bits over low heat (I use about 1/2 -3/4 c. of chocolate to 2 cups of finely chopped almonds and coconut). You know right about using the lowest heat possible (or even a double boiler to melt chocolate so you don't temper it funny and change the taste).

Gently mix the warm chocolate into the nuts and coconuts and stir until the nuts/coconut mix is covered.

Place spoonfuls (your choice in size) of the choco-nut mix onto a parchment covered cookie sheet. Lightly sprinkle with the coarse salt and chill.

I usually freeze them for about half an hour to an hour and then serve.

They go like hotcakes around here and since two of the four ingredients are superfoods, and the other two are healthful, I don't feel an ounce of pain eating them.

Now, if I only had a name for them, life would be complete. Any ideas?

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm a slacker, what can I say

I know, I know...I was going to tell you about our new cow and then I disappeared. We have had Mattie and Moose (the new cow and her baby) for weeks now, so many weeks I don't even know how many. As you can see below, she's a beautiful Guernsey girl who gives luscious milk semi-willingly--we have had some trouble with her kicking and such, but we are getting it down. Steve is the larger part of that "we" since she seems to like him milking her better than me. Mattie's a big girl, so let's just say that getting the hang of this milking gig was a whole lot more intimidating than it was with Brigid. The best I can say is we are learning and she is getting used to us. It is bound to calm down soon. She's a sweet girl even if she does like to swing a leg. And her milk makes the best kefir ever!

Since I've checked in we've also had a lamb born (with more on the way). And the butcher came and went. We couldn't find a shearer, and the raspberries have been pruned as have the orchards. Big huge compost piles have been built and the hoophouse partially replanted. Needless to say there were a few holidays thrown in and well, it's been busy. Here's a few pictures to give you an idea of what we have been up to. Including a shot of our first snowdrops of the year.....