Sunday, September 29, 2013

Farm to fork dinner

Last night, Mike, Jane, and I went to Joliet Junior College's annual fall scholarship dinner for the culinary department. In previous years it was an international buffet, but this year it was a farm-to-fork dinner, which of course, got yours truly really excited. I'm always excited about the culinary department scholarship dinners -- students have won the national culinary championship multiple times -- but add locally grown food to the menu, and it's a really big cause for excitement. I love knowing that future chefs are learning about the advantages of using local, in-season foods.

The event was held outside the cafeteria at the college. While the second-year culinary students were in charge of cooking, the first-year students were the servers for the evening. As everyone mingled during the arrival time, the first course was served by students walking around with platters of appetizers, such as smoked heirloom tomato bruschetta on freshly baked ciabatta and miniature house-made sausage sandwich with honey mustard sauce. To drink, we had cranberry cyser, which was a hard cider-mead hybrid from Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery in nearby Chicago. Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the food to remember to take any pictures. (You'll find that was a recurring problem through the evening!)

We were seated for the second course, which was a variety of entirely house-made charcuterie, salumi, and fresh cheeses. I find it really exciting that culinary schools are teaching their students how to make all of these things! Although the cheeses were all fresh varieties (as opposed to aged styles), I'm hoping the trend continues and a cheese cave will be a standard fixture at all culinary schools of the future.

Caesar salad

The third course was a choice of four salads, as well as a variety of breads, butters, pickled vegetables, and relishes. And I finally came out of my food-crazed daze long enough to snap a couple of pictures. The "Caesar salad" was not your fast-food garden variety -- of course! -- as it included early fall kale and endive, in addition to the traditional romaine. I have to admit I never would have considered using kale in a Caesar salad, but it was honestly one of my favorite parts of the meal, and I am looking forward to copying the medley in my own kitchen.

Grilled vegetable "slaw"

Everyone had a choice of four entrees, and since it was served family style, we could take a little of each, if we wanted. (or a lot!) Since I only eat meat that we grow ourselves or was grown by farmers we know, I decided to pass on the pork and beef entree, even though it came from a local farm. The chicken was an organic Bell and Evans chicken, and because the chef's description sounded divine, I gave it a try. I only had one bite, which was when it occurred to me that it was a Cornish cross. Although the sauce was delicious, the chicken itself didn't taste like much. So alas, I can say I've finally tried a commercially grown organic chicken, and I can see why so many people rave about how heritage chicken tastes like chicken. Heritage chicken definitely tastes better.

And then there was dessert. At this point, most everyone was entering a food-induced coma, so no one made a dash for the dessert tables when it was announced that we'd be going inside for the final course. There were eight choices, so I carefully surveyed the options before choosing three. My favorite was the salted caramel ice cream with spicy apples and toffee. The pumpkin cheesecake came in a close second place. I also had sweet corn ice cream, which would have been deemed excellent had it not been for the stiff competition.

Overall, we had a great time, and I'm hoping they will make this an annual event. I'd definitely attend again. And I've been thinking about the importance of educating chefs (and future chefs) about the value of using locally-grown ingredients, not simply because of the sustainability aspect but also because the food tastes so much better when it's really fresh, as well as the availability of heirloom vegetables and heritage meats from small farmers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Where in the world is Deborah?

Today I'm home working on the farm and catching up on email and blog posts, but last weekend I was at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, and yesterday, I spoke at the National Goat Expo in Bloomington, Illinois. On October 12-13, I'll be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence, Kansas. (If you're there, be sure to introduce yourself!)

I also have some television appearances coming up to promote my new book, Raising Goats Naturally. I really didn't think that anyone would want me on a talk show promoting a goat book because few people actually have goats. However, last year after an interview on the Paula Sands Show in Iowa, the producer asked if I was working on another book, and as soon as I said it was about goats, he and Paula both said I had to come back to talk about it when it was released -- and one of them immediately asked, "Can you bring a goat?"

So, I am bringing a goat. It will be interesting. I've decided to take Agnes because she is the "resident goat expert" and has her own Twitter page. So far, she only has two engagements booked, but the first one is next Friday, October 4. I'm trying not to think about it too much. I have a really active imagination and tend to think that Mr. Murphy runs my life. (You know Murphy's Rule, right?)At least this segment will be taped, so I know I won't be the new star of a viral video about a goat gone wild in a television studio. If it goes okay, we might consider contacting a few more television stations.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The story of lunch

 by Jane Davis
Antiquity Oaks apprentice

I ate duck a l’orange for lunch the other day. It was delicious.

Friday morning the duck that I ate on Saturday was waddling around its enclosure.

Friday afternoon its head was being chopped off.

That night it was sitting in pieces in the fridge passing through the phases of rigor mortis.

Honestly, when I was watching the duck bleed out I wasn’t entirely sure that I would be able to eat it. It seemed gruesome. This was the duck that I had fed and watered every morning, and in just a second it went from very much alive to hanging headless, spilling it’s precious juices all over the ground. It was a little too real all of a sudden.

This might sound stupid, but I have never really been able connect the meat on my table to the animals it comes from. Think about the language that we use; it’s a cow when it’s alive, and at some point that we are not forced to bear witness to, it becomes beef. Poof, like magic. Nobody has to think about eating the big beautiful beast, because it’s not cow…. it’s beef.

The other day when I sat down in front of my plate I remembered that duck walking around the pen with his friends. I remembered chasing after his living, breathing body, and watching as spasms racked his headless body. To not eat this duck was to know that he had died for one less reason. So I ate consciously.

That duck tasted good because it was pasture raised and just about as fresh as it gets. It tasted good because I knew where it had come from and I had seen it grow and I was eating it deliberately. I was reminded of how much work went into that duck, and I was reminded to slow down and savor it. I was also reminded of how many slices of bacon, how many hamburgers, how many chicken wings, and how many turkeys I have eaten without reminding myself of the animal that made them. Watching that duck go, very literally, from farm to table prodded me to remember that all the meat I eat was once a living, breathing animal (as obvious as it sounds).

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Duck, duck, goose

Twice I've purchased 15 ducks for our farm. Initially we were going to use them for meat and eggs, but then I discovered that I wasn't a big fan of duck eggs, and Mike was not a big fan of butchering ducks. I found the eggs too yolk-y, and Mike found the feathers and down too challenging to pluck. So the ducks have mostly been pond ornaments and coyote food. Over the winter, we found ourselves with only two male ducks.

The bigger birds are the geese.

I really didn't want another 15 ducks, which is the minimum hatchery order, so when the feed store had ducklings available this spring, I bought five. The only down side to buying them at the feed store is that our only option was white Pekins, rather than some of the prettier ducks available through hatcheries.

Fast forward to last week.

A Cayuga drake splashing in the water

Mike butchered the last two male ducks, and the two female ducks were put out on the pond to join the two remaining boys from previous flocks. The boys immediately welcomed the girls by jumping on top of them to breed as soon as they met. The two drakes have been without females in their flock for more than a year, so I suppose I understand their enthusiasm.

The two new white Pekin ducks

The geese also seemed very happy to welcome the two new ladies to the pond. The geese are also boys, but they appear to understand they are not the right species for the new ladies. Why do we have so many males? Ever heard the term "sitting duck?" I think the original term was probably "setting duck" meaning that when a duck is setting, it is very easy for a predator to get them. That is definitely what happened to all of our geese.

The ducks, on the other hand, had a bad habit of leaving the secure fenced area around our house to visit the creek. Just as goats know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, I suppose ducks think the water is bluer on the other side. They do have a nice pond for swimming, but that's apparently not good enough. I do hope these new ladies will stay put where it's safer.

And when we took them out of their little duck house to let them loose on the pond, we discovered that they had already laid their first three eggs. Jane used two of them to make a cake.

Our previous ducks just laid eggs around the pond, making it a real egg hunt every day. Because these were raised in a little house, I am hoping that they'll continue to go back there to lay eggs.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Want to be a blog tour host?

My publisher wants me to do a blog tour to help promote Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, so I'm in the process of finding blogs that are goat-related and willing to be a host.

Wait! What's a blog tour? What does a host do?

Great questions! A blog tour just means that I'll "visit" your blog one day in October. You can write up a bunch of questions for me to answer, or I can do a guest post, or you can do a review of the book. Yep, that means the publisher will send you a free copy of the book. If you want, I can plan to be available to answer questions that your readers might ask on the blog. My publisher is even willing to provide a limited number of books for giveaways on those blogs whose readers would be interested. If you're still wondering what I'm talking about, check out this post from 2009 when author Margaret Hathaway visited the Antiquity Oaks blog.

If you would like to participate, just send me a message on the contact form at this link.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Breeding season!

A couple weeks ago, I was starting to complain about the fact that I had not seen a goat in heat since March. As luck would have it, the very next day when we let the goats outside in the morning, several of the does were butting heads, flagging, and mounting each other. The only problem with that sort of behavior is that it can be a challenge to figure out exactly who is in heat and who is just all worked up because they are surrounded by so many hormonal females.

This is the latest we have started breeding goats for as long as I can remember other than our very first year when all three of our goats were bred the first week of October. This means that I am not going to pass up a single doe that is in heat. Usually I try to maintain a bit of sanity in my kidding season by not having too many does due at the same time, but because I like to be done with kidding by March, I can't risk missing a doe coming back into heat later. Kidding during winter is one of our strategies for controlling internal parasites in the goats. If the does kid when the parasites are mostly dormant, we are able to avoid the use of chemical dewormers.

Pictured are two of the happy couples that were put together when the doe was in heat. Yes, Sadie the white goat above, is with a younger man. That's Calvin Klein, one of Coco's quintuplets born in March.

And here is handsome Austin with Nina Ricci behind him. I like to provide dinner for all of the goats when they're on their dates. And yes, he's a younger man too. I kept three bucklings this year, and they're all doing a great job with breeding this fall.

The first week of February is going to be crazy! There are nine does due on February 5 and 6. I'm looking forward to the babies but dreading the inevitable lack of sleep! If I make it through without a migraine, I'll be very happy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Starting a Hamburg flock

I've been searching for a white egg laying bird that will do well on our farm, and the silver spangled Hamburg is the next candidate. They are a medium sized chicken and were historically considered a good egg layer in Holland.

When getting new layers, I prefer to have fall hatched because they will reach maturity around the time the days are getting longer, so you wind up with a lot more eggs the first year than you do when you get spring hatched chicks. It is also easier to keep the chicks warm in September than our cold spring months, and they feather out as the temperatures fall.

The chicks are already a week old in these pictures and starting to get their tiny feathers.

One of the fun things about getting chicks from McMurray Hatchery is that they always throw in a free mystery chick. This little one is a lot bigger than the Hamburgs. Any guesses?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Welcome, Jane!

Jane August Davis Last week you had the pleasure of reading Jane's post about our honey harvest, which means I am way overdue in introducing her to you. She is our new apprentice and will be here until December.

Jane is from Baltimore and just graduated from high school. Although she's been accepted at a college already, she asked for deferred enrollment so that she could spend a year exploring her place in the world, as she said in her apprenticeship application.

She jumped right into farm life and has been helping with chores, including animal care and goat milking, as well as learning to make a variety of cheeses. She also helped with honey harvesting and processing the beeswax. As you've already discovered she is a talented writer and photographer, even taking her own self-portrait above with Bella the goat!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The book has landed!

Monday I had a phone meeting with my publicist from my publisher, and she told me that my latest book, Raising Goats Naturally, had just come off the press on Friday. Copies were being drop-shipped to me so that I will have them available when I speak at the National Goat Expo in a couple of weeks. However, she said that it could take up to ten days for the books to reach me.

Imagine my surprise when we got a phone call Tuesday morning from a trucking company asking if we would be home to accept delivery that afternoon!

It was a semi truck, so he had to park on the road. My son had the excellent idea to drive our truck out there and back it up to the semi so we could get the books closer to the house before we had to actually carry them. We are into working hard out here, but no one wants to do any extra labor when it's 97 degrees out!

I immediately ripped open one of the boxes and pulled out a book!

It is truly amazing when you actually get to hold your book in your hand for the very first time. I flipped through the pages, looking at pictures, reading passages, and even getting all choked up and teary eyed when reading the "Final Thoughts" again.

The book sat on my desk just to the right of my computer for the rest of Tuesday, and I did a double-take every time I saw it. After so many months of planning and writing and sweating, it's hard to believe it's finally here!

It will take two or three weeks to get to stores, but for those of you who really want a copy now, I have a special price with free shipping until the end of this month. Click here for details! For those of you who prefer ebooks, it will be available on Nook, Kindle, etc within a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Beautiful baffling bee barf

by Jane Davis
Antiquity Oaks apprentice

I thought I had bees all figured out. I knew a little bit about their social structure, their lifecycle, and their care. I had gotten dressed up in a bee suit and taken peeks into their home. For some reason I assumed I was familiar with everything I cared to know about bees; I was happy just enjoying the fruits of their labors and appreciating them from afar.

When Mike announced that it was time to harvest the honey, I was intrigued but not overly zealous. Deborah seemed the most excited, which made sense considering she had stood by for a year and a half while the bees did their work. However, after much patience, the wait was finally over. Mike donned his bee-keeping outfit, slid on his helmet and gloves, and lit his smoker. We headed out, unsure what to expect. The two hives sit nestled back into a thicket of brush. Bees buzz lazily in and out of the hive and crawl around the entrance. With immense patience and placidity (and a little help from the smoker) Mike disassembled the first hive with little incident. To our great disappointment as soon as he lifted the lid we saw ants swarming and mingling with a few other mysterious bugs. We let the first hive be; simply hoping they will make it through the winter. While it was not a great start to the investigation, we were not disheartened knowing we still had a whole second hive to investigate.

As soon as Mike pulled the first frame out of the super we knew we had struck gold. Even the frames closest to the edges (the last to get filled) were bursting to the brim with honey. Happily, he continued to pull frames out, smoking and brushing bees off as he went. As Mike pulled frames out I became more and more captivated by the project. I was in awe that those little bees had created something so big. I was entirely fascinated by the process and would only become more so as the day wore on.

When Mike was done, he had pulled nine frames out of the top super –he left the last because it was not yet full. The hardest part was over, and Mike had braved only three stings. I was surprised by how tranquil the bees were considering we were taking the hard earned fruits of their labor. When we got everything inside (carefully checking for stragglers and hitchhikers first) we could only wait long enough for Mike to change before we dove into the next steps.

The first phase of the process was to remove the caps from the comb. Using a tool that was something along the lines of a cross between a spatula and a double sided, serrated knife and a little comb we separated as many caps as possible.

The frame was then put into a metal drum with a crank on the side that spins two frames at a time. This machine is great for two reasons. First, it saves the comb for the bees, creating less of an impact on their hive. Second, it does an astonishing job cleaning every last drop of honey out of the comb. When all the frames had been cleaned they were ready to be returned to the hive and filled again. As we were processing the honey I couldn’t help but become progressively more excited about bees. I was astonished. These teeny tiny creatures had built thousands of perfect little cells and filled it with their magical barf. How could insects make something that works as a disinfectant, a preservative, a sweetener, and an allergy aid? Nobody really understands everything about bees, which is part of the reason they are so intriguing.

The next step took a little more patience. The honey is poured through a set of three, progressively smaller strainers to trap all the little pieces of wax and any other impurities. We ended up having to let it sit overnight to allow all the honey to drain through. The honey was collected in a five gallon bucket and I was astonished by how much we had. With just a little work on our part and a lot of work on the bee’s part, we collected almost two and a half gallons of honey! This is especially astounding when you consider that each worker bee creates just 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. For a first harvest I was very impressed by the results.

As I surveyed the finished product I realized I am beginning to understand the allure of bees. It’s simply dumbfounding that those little tiny insects, through an immense display of teamwork, can create something as gorgeous as honey. It’s easy to forget where honey in the store comes from. (Little plastic bears make it, right?) To stand at the window looking out at the hives where it was created, the plants that it was made from, and the bees that had worked so hard made me realize how precious honey really is. The process of gathering the honey was a fantastic reminder to be thankful for the hard work of the plants and the bees that made it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Happy retirement, Carmen!

When do you retire a doe? Although I can give some benchmarks that are easy to measure -- like, when she can't maintain her body condition after kidding -- I've discovered this year that I have a much more instinctual method for deciding when to retire does. I'm not saying it's good or that I'm always making the best business decision, but it feels right, so I'm going to go with it. Maybe it's more emotional than instinctual?

I've decided that I won't be breeding ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D 1*M again. In the back of my head, I can't help but think that it has something to do with the death of Coco following kidding last spring. Coco is the doeling in the background of this picture with Carmen from 2004 when they were born -- and then both promptly tried to die on me. They were the first goats that ever tried to to die on my farm, and I was beyond thrilled when I was able to beat death, in spite of my inexperience and ignorance.

Carmen was a tiny triplet that was born when no one was in the barn, and when we found her, she looked dead. Her two big brothers were both up and nursing, but this tiny little gold and white doe laid seemingly lifeless in the straw. Even though I had never seen a kid with hypothermia, I realized immediately that it was her main problem, and I told my children to bring me a bucket of warm water. I didn't want to take her away from her mother, naively thinking that this tiny, weak doeling would be able to compete with two big healthy bucklings for her dam's two teats. I called my mentor who told me to milk the dam and feed her colostrum to the tiny kid with a stomach tube. I felt like I had two left hands, and I was terrified of accidentally putting the colostrum into her lungs, but somehow I managed to do it correctly.

And so Carmen became our first house goat. She was not able to stand for a couple of days, but it didn't take us long to realize that she was a lovely little doe. In the back of my head, I thought that I must be incredibly biased. After all, what are the odds that one of our first kids would actually be a really beautiful goat? When my daughters started showing, no one was more surprised than me when Carmen took her first grand champion ribbon. And then she won again and again and became a finished champion.

It was not all smooth sailing though. We had recently gone on milk test when my daughters took the goats to a show where they all contracted pinkeye, but none had it worse than Carmen. Within a few days she was completely blind and just stood in the corner of the barn, not eating, and losing weight, as her milk supply plummeted. I saw my dream of my first homegrown doe earning a milk star vanishing. But after two weeks, the pinkeye was finally nothing more than a bad memory as Carmen regained her vision completely. And amazingly enough, her supply was able to rebound enough that she squeaked by to earn her milk star that year!

Carmen has always had her mother's ease with birthing, completely surprising us as a first freshener, kidding with a single doeling in the pasture when no one was around. That kid, Lizzie, is still with us and has been our second-best milker for three years. I realized last year that I had not kept any other Carmen daughters, so decided to keep Rosie, her doeling from last year.

One of my favorite things about Carmen is that she is an easy keeper. She has great parasite resistance and so does Lizzie, so I'm hoping Rosie follows in her Mama's and Auntie's hoofsteps. She was born last August and so far has never needed a dewormer, so I'm very hopeful.

As I write all of this, a tiny voice asks, "Why aren't you going to breed her again?" She'll be ten years old next spring, and although she is in excellent health and would most likely give birth easily again, it just feels right to retire her. She gave me hundreds of gallons of milk over the years, as well as Lizzie and Rosie, and to ask for more just seems like it would be greedy. So Carmen will be spending her golden years out in the pasture with her daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


No, we don't have any peaches ready right now. We harvested them about a month ago, but somehow the pictures slipped between the cyber-cracks, and I just noticed them on my computer desktop. They're so beautiful I still had to share. No, I'm not bragging about my photography skills; I'm talking about how gorgeous those peaches are! Makes me want to go grab a jar out of the freezer!

In the past we've always made peach jam, but I wanted to do something different this year. After looking through my canning books, we decided to make peach pie filling from them this time. It was my job to drop them in boiling water and then slip off the skins, and then Mike sliced them and put them into the pot.

The only snafu in the process came after quite a bit of boiling when we realized that the peaches were falling apart, and the whole thing was getting more liquid rather than thicker. I called my good friend and canning queen extraordinaire, Cathy Lafrenz in Iowa, to ask her what was up with the Ball Blue Book recipe. I was guessing that we'd have to add corn starch or something before actually using this as a pie filling, and yep, she said that I was correct. One thing I have noticed about the Ball Blue book in the past is that it doesn't always give you all of the directions for things. It only tells you how to preserve something but not what to do with it after it's canned or frozen.

Of course, the peaches did not fill up an exact number of jars, so we used the left-overs to top our cheese blintzes that we had for breakfast the next morning, and that was delicious! Now that the weather is cooling off some, I'll probably make a pie soon. But if we don't really like this as a pie fillin, I know we can certainly use it as a topping for cheese blintzes.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hay, hay, hay!

We've been stocking up on hay to get ready for the winter. Most years we have to start feeding hay daily to all the animals somewhere between October and November, depending upon how cold it gets and how early. When our last load of hay was delivered, Mike told me that it would take him about twice as long as normal to get it stacked in the barn because our son wasn't home to help.

"Well, I can help!" I cheerily chimed in, feeling slightly insulted that he didn't even consider asking me.

True confession time -- I have never stacked hay in the past because our children always helped.

Without even cracking a smile, Mike immediately asked me whether I wanted to be on the hay wagon and unload or be on the hay stack and stack the hay as he tossed it to me. I opted to be on top of the hay wagon because unloading sounded easier. After all, I would have gravity on my side.

So, here is Mike waiting for me to climb up on top of that stack of hay and then to climb on top of the hay rack to start tossing him bales to stack.

And here is Mike tossing hay from the hay wagon to the stack of hay.

What was that? You thought I was supposed to be the one on top of the hay wagon? Yeah, well that was my original plan, but it never occurred to me how high I would have to climb. I am only slightly afraid of heights. But I do have a huge fear of falling from things that are high. I was not at all prepared for how unstable the hay would feel. Or the fact that climbing up onto the top of the hay rack meant that I'd have to jump from a bale of hay that feels like it's being crushed under my foot and somehow pull myself up on top of a wobbly hay wagon. How exactly was I supposed to pull myself up on a bale of hay that weighs about one-third as much as I do? I briefly pictured myself falling to the floor with a bale of hay landing on top of me. Yeah, it was rather unnerving.

So, I told Mike I'd stack hay. As he tossed each bale to me, I moved it into position on the stack. But I wasn't prepared for the fact that my foot might slip under a piece of baling twine and I might almost trip and fall off the stack of hay -- several times. Within ten minutes, I said, "Maybe I'm not the best helper." And Mike quickly suggested that I might have something more important to do. I agreed. So, with a great deal of relief -- he was probably as relieved as I was -- I climbed down from the hay stack and took a few pictures and then headed into the house. So, here he is stacking the hay that he tossed.

And here is a picture of Pepper supervising from under the hay rack.

I'm sure I don't say this enough, but I'm so thankful to have such a big, strong, healthy husband!


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