Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chat with Wild Fibers publisher

A couple weeks ago, I was surfing the Web and found this amazing magazine that reports on fiber animals. We're not just talking sheep and goats here. No, they travel the world visiting with people who raise animals that produce all sorts of fiber -- from alpaca to qiviut to yaks! As soon as I found the magazine, I thought of all of you. I know a lot of my readers love fiber, fiber animals, and fiber art. So, today we're visiting with Wild Fibers editor and publisher Linda Cortright, pictured above with a qiviut. I've asked her a few questions, and she's agreed to pop in a few times today to answer any questions that you have! Also, Linda is offering a 20% subscription discount to Antiquity Oaks readers who call in their subscription today!

Deborah: Which came first, your interest in fibers or fiber animals, and how did that happen?

Linda: I am one of those people who grew up knitting Fisherman’s sweaters from scratchy Irish wool. This was back in the days when the wool actually came from Ireland, and not Australia or New Zealand as most of it does now. Although I loved to knit, that particular experience didn’t get me terribly juiced about fibers. When I was in my late thirties, I made one of those “don’t look back” career changes and moved from suburban Philadelphia to rural Maine. I bought four cashmere goats, which simultaneously launched my ridiculous passion for fibers.

Deborah: Why did you decide to start a magazine devoted to fiber animals?

Linda: Wild Fibers is truly the byproduct of my own nosiness. Every time I would take my goats to a show, I would jump around the animal pens talking with other fiber folk. Hasn’t everyone done a little “tire-kicking” down the alpaca aisle at least once? I was fascinated by the histories of the different animals from around the world, and yet all of the publications only focused on a specific breed. “The Camelid Quarterly,” for example, is wonderful; but as a casual enthusiast, I don’t need to know how to trim llama hooves or build a holding pen. Wild Fibers has always been focused on different cultural traditions surrounding the fiber industry and less about the “how to” aspect of the industry.

Deborah: Do you have a background in publishing or journalism?

Linda: Obviously not, can’t you tell from all the typos? To this day I don’t really consider myself a writer. Even if I slept with Strunk and White under my pillow every night for a year, I would still do things with punctuation that would make a fifth grader howl. My professional background includes everything from being a dog groomer in Manhattan to working for CBS. Before I started Wild Fibers I was working for a non-profit on the coast of Maine helping to sustain island communities. My experience at the Island Institute is what gave me a deep appreciation for working with small, indigenous cultures – it is an art unto itself and critical for doing my job.

Deborah: Is there any particular article that will stick with you forever -- you know, the one you'll never forget?

Linda: There are a few articles that I confess every time I read them, they still make me laugh, and I even know the punch line is coming. But there is one article that to this day still puts a lump in my throat, “Surviving the Massacre” is about what happened to the farmers and their animals during the collectivization under Stalin. I had visited with a shepherd in northern Kazakhstan and after four hours it was all I could do not to keep from weeping on the floor. Often times there are parts of my job that are heart wrenching, and frequently, I don’t write about them unless the information can serve some greater good. But so very little has been written about this period in history because it has been buried with so many other Soviet secrets. It was one of the most remarkable interviews and will undoubtedly stay with me forever.

Deborah: Do you have a favorite fiber animal?

Linda: No, of course not… well, maybe one. I adore my cashmere goats, and even if they gave me bags of rug wool I would still feel the same way. I love the character of the goat; mischievous, playful, and equal parts devoted and yet distant. I have never met a goat that didn’t give me the giggles within the first thirty seconds. And on a purely superficial level, I have seen some seriously handsome bucks that would give my tail a twitch, or two!

Deborah: Do you have a favorite fiber art?

Linda: One of the great things about the fiber arts is that they adapt so well to different moods. There are some days when row after row of a complicated lace pattern really satisfies my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) tendencies. And then, there are days when whacking about a hunk of wet wooly felt feels more satisfying than an extra large dish of ice cream. Unfortunately, sometimes projects get put on hold until I’m back in the right mood. I suppose as long as I stay moody, I won’t ever have a single favorite. Who knows, maybe my knitting is really about hormones.

Deborah: What about a favorite fiber?

Linda: If you looked in my closet you would probably say cashmere, but I think qiviut is the most divine fiber. You can throw it in the washing machine and it doesn’t felt or shrink. Why would anyone ever wear polar fleece when they can toss a qiviut sweater in the dryer? I understand that there’s a wee price difference, but qiviut is exquisitely soft, warm, and it goes to supporting native communities in the Arctic. I try to make informed choices about everything I buy, and though I am a huge proponent of buying local, I truly support efforts that help remote communities whose cultural heritage is in jeopardy. The wonderful thing about the natural fiber industry is that it affords us all the opportunity to help each other in so many wonderful and meaningful ways. How wild is that?

So, now it's your turn! If you have any questions about fiber, fiber animals, or fiber arts, just give Linda a holler in the comment section. And remember, she's only here today (Wednesday) -- and if you call in a subscription today, (207) 594-9455, just tell them you're an Antiquity Oaks reader, and you'll get a 20% discount off the regular subscription price of Wild Fibers.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Adventure in the big city

Before I forget, I want to let everyone know that tomorrow we're having a visitor on the blog. If you love fiber animals or fiber arts, you're going to love this guest!

I've been in Chicago since Sunday, probably driving everyone crazy back on the farm with my phone calls and emails, asking if they've done this or that. They say you worry a lot when you have human kids. Well, when you have a farm, it's even worse. Being a "small" farm, I know each animal and worry about their particular needs. Is Star, my 11-year-old goat, getting enough hay, or are the younger, pushier goats not letting her get her fair share? Did the horses get put back in the pasture after it quit snowing? Are any goats coming into heat? Should we let the llamas onto the back 20 now, or wait until I get home? Are the water buckets being refilled often enough? Are the goats getting their afternoon hay? You get the idea.

I am having a good time in Chicago though. Sunday night, I saw In the Heights, which won the 2008 Tony for best musical, and I can see why. It was excellent! Last night, we saw Jersey Boys, a jukebox musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which won the 2006 Tony for best musical. Great music, but like most bands, the story is sad at times.

I love eating at locally-owned restaurants that make real food with real ingredients -- things that I might be able to duplicate in my own kitchen. For me, eating out is research, and I find it sadly strange that it's easier to find unique restaurants in cities than small towns. Sunday night, we had a serendipitous moment when we were eating at Quartro, a Spanish-Italian restaurant. The host gave us a warm potato salad, saying that the kitchen accidentally fixed one too many. I would have never ordered this, because it really didn't sound that good, but you can't judge a dish by its menu description. I never would have put chunks of warm potato on top of wilted arugula. I'm not a huge fan of arugula, but I'll eat it if it's hidden in a salad of baby greens. And I've never liked any greens wilted. Eeyew, right? Wrong! Wilted arugula is delicious. Now I want to grow arugula in the garden next spring and duplicate this.

Last night for dinner, we had some excellent green beans at a Chinese restaurant. They were stir-fried with carrots, ginger, cayenne and other spices. We'll definitely duplicate this one. Stir-fried green beans with garlic, red pepper, and soy sauce is already a favorite. I don't know why we didn't think of adding slivers of carrot and ginger. We had another dish with bok choy in it, which made me wonder why we haven't grown bok choy in the past. As much as we love making stir-fried dishes, it seems like it would have been an obvious choice for the garden.

Even though I'm having fun, I'm looking forward to getting back home Thursday, which you'd find odd if you knew me 25 years ago. I grew up in a small Texas town and couldn't wait to spend my weekends in Houston and then move to Connecticut for college. But after living in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington State, Florida, Nebraska, and Hawaii, and after visiting 49 states, most of the Canadian provinces, Mexico, and about a dozen European countries, I've found my little Eden on 32 acres on a creek in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pizza night

Most nights, we sit down around the dinner table and have a proper dinner, but every Friday night, we make homemade pizza and eat it while watching a movie. Everyone in the family knows how to make pizza, so anyone can jump in and start the dough or roll it out or whatever needs to be done to keep pizza night on track. In fact, the kids usually make the pizza without even being reminded.

The dough recipe is taped inside the cabinet above the Kitchen Aid, so it's easy to get everything started on time. To make enough dough for two pizzas, put the follow ingredients into the mixing bowl:

1 1/2 c. water
1 T. yeast

1 T. sugar

1 t. salt

2 T. olive oil

4 to 5 c. flour

If you're using a Kitchen Aid, use your dough hook and mix until the dough forms a ball and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. You don't have to let it rise, but if it does rise for 30 minutes or an hour, it will be easier to stretch and roll out on the pizza pan.

Mike is the family mozzarella guru, and we haven't purchased mozzarella in a couple years. When we're really drowning in the milk in the spring and summer, we make extra mozz and freeze it for winter when we might not have the gallon of milk needed to make a batch.

Jonathan is especially good at rolling out the dough and preparing the pizza. Rub olive oil all over your hands to make it easier to handle the dough. (Olive oil is also very good for your skin, so don't wash it off!) Pour sauce to taste on each pizza crust. Newman's pasta sauces make great pizza, if you don't want to make your own sauce. Sprinkle chopped veggies and other toppings on the pizza. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees F. Or when doing two pizzas, bake for 11 minutes, rotate pizzas on racks, and bake for an additional 11 minutes.

Pick a movie that the whole family will enjoy, sit back, and enjoy your pizza!

Check out more blogs on meatless meals here!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas food

Since we were going to spend Christmas Day dinner with relatives, and they were planning lasagna, we decided to fix a turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas Eve.

We had one of our heritage turkey hens. It was only six pounds, but still we had left-overs.

And of course, there was bread. This is only the second braided bread I've done (first was on Thanksgiving), so I really want to emphasize how easy this is! Give it a try!

Katherine made chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered walnuts, and chocolate-dipped pretzels.

And we were in charge of dessert for the Christmas Day dinner, so here's the platter that we took. In addition to Katherine's candy, there were homemade Heath bars and peanut butter brownies. We also took decorated Christmas cookies, which were not very pretty, but they tasted delicious, and that's all that's really important.

Now I need to place a moratorium on baking sweets for a couple weeks -- at least!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas flood, snow storm, and recalcitrant cows

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but . . . there is no but. If you recall, I tried to sell our creek last spring, but I had no takers. So, I guess today's story starts a few days ago when the temperatures went above freezing, and it started raining. The Christmas Flood of '09 now joins the New Years Flood of '08, the 9/11 Flood of '06, the Mothers Day Flood of '02 and a dozen other floods that weren't lucky enough to happen on a holiday and get a name. I've pretty much given up on taking pictures of floods, because they pretty much all look the same. So, if you want to know what it looked like here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, just click on the "flood" label, and you can check out pictures from previous floods.

Mike spent the end of Christmas Eve and the early part of Christmas Day shop-vaccing out the small barn. The pigs did some serious landscaping, creating a little pond, which caused water and mud to flow into the north side of the smaller barn. We never installed the drain tiles in the pasture or the yard this summer, so part of the bigger barn also flooded. Jonathan sat up with me until almost 1 a.m. Christmas Day, as I waited for Mike who was sucking the water out of the smaller barn. I felt guilty about sitting inside warm and dry, but it really was a one-person job since we only have one ShopVac. At 12:45 a.m., we talked Margaret into going out there to check on him. While she was outside, Jonathan told me that I could be waiting until 3 a.m. Then Margaret came in and said that when she asked her father if he'd be in tonight, he said he didn't know. So, I decided to go to bed close to 2 a.m.

On Christmas Day, the temperature dropped below freezing again, and the precipitation continued. In fact, it continues as I type, so we have a soft powdery snow on top of ice. I've only had lunch -- a late lunch -- and today has been far more exciting than I really enjoy. When I woke up this morning, I saw that the greenhouse had blown over, so Mike and I went out there to pick up all the pots and planting equipment that had blown around the garden, and he put it in one of the barns. I came inside to get warmed up, and I'd only taken off my boots for about five minutes when he came in and said the cows were out. Of course, they were out! The flood had shorted out the electric fence, and they just know when they can escape. They were across the road, so I took a pan of grain out there and lured them back home. We let them into the barn, and then decided it would be a bad idea to let them out the back door, because it swings on hinges, and we're in the middle of a snow storm, remember? I hate it when a 12-foot door gets yanked out of my hand by the wind. So, we decided to put halters on them and take them out the front door (which slides) and put them in the near pasture (which is woven wire). Sounds simple enough, right?

Getting a halter on Molly was not a big deal. However, Bridget has always been easy, and I made the mistake of assuming she would be easy today. Ha! After a couple tries, I realized I'd need help, so Mike put a lead rope around her neck to hold her while I put the halter on her. I was standing behind her head to the right and was planning to pull the halter up over her nose, and buckle it behind her neck. I leaned forward to put the halter over her nose, and just at that moment she jerked her head up. Smack! Mike heard it and said, "What was that?"

"My tooth. Her horn hit my tooth." Then I tasted something salty. Ah, yes, blood. And I realized my lower lip felt numb. I spit like one of those cowboys who'd just been punched in the face in an old western movie. Yep, blood. But I didn't smile the way cowboys do when they realize they're spitting blood. There really is no good place to stand when you're trying to put a halter on a horned cow, and right at that moment, I was thinking about how much I hated horns on cows. I'm definitely getting a polled bull -- genetically hornless -- so hopefully we'll have polled calves. If not, I'll probably dehorn them as calves before their horn buds even start to grow. But I digress. I moved as quickly as I could to get the halter on Bridget, and then we started leading the heifers out of the barn.

When I got to the gate, of course it had to be a challenge to get unlatched. And of course, there just had to be a turkey sitting on the fence next to it. And of course, the turkey just had to decide that she didn't like me invading her space. So, she flaps her two-foot long wings to fly off and smacks me in the face. At that moment, I decided that this was turning into a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. As we walked the cows into the pasture, Mike asks if I think they can get into the goat's stall through that cute little door that he made last month. I look at the heifers and look at the little door. I can barely fit through that door, but I take a good, long look at the heifers and the door again. Nope, no way -- and why would they? We put a flake of hay in the 3-sided shelter for them. What more could they want?

You know what happens next, don't you? I go into the house once again to try to warm up, and I barely have my boots off when I hear Mike scream. Molly has gone through the little goat door. By the time I look out the window, Bridget has followed her. I yell for Katherine to come downstairs and go help her dad get the cows out of the goat stall. I'm ready to warm up in front of the wood stove with a cup of hot cider.
. . . but the fire is so delightful. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Goat breeding woes and chuckles

The problem is that one of my bucks doesn't appear to be very virile. Frankie didn't seem to be all that excited about breeding the does, and the does are now coming back into heat. Today, Lizzie was in heat, even though she'd been bred to Frankie already. I decided not to waste any more time on Frankie and instead to breed her to Pegasus, whom she'd been bred to a couple years ago -- and produced gorgeous babies. Simplest thing in the world, right? Just go put a couple little love birds together. Simple is not the word to describe how my afternoon played out.

Margaret is home from college and was the only person home at the time I looked out the window to see our wether (castrated male) mounting Lizzie. She was standing there, obviously in heat, perfectly content to have him all over her. After getting over my initial frustration that she was not bred, I told Margaret I needed to go outside and put her with another buck to get her bred. Margaret volunteered to help, because my back has been problematic lately, and she didn't want me hurting myself. Really? (If this were literature instead of real life, I should have seen that as foreshadowing.)

So, we take Lizzie out of the does' pen, and we get Pegasus from the stall at the end of the barn. He was very happy to get to work making babies right away, and I told Margaret we should put them in a stall for the afternoon to make sure she was bred. As it turned out, there was a spool in that stall (you know, the thing electrical cables are wound up on), and I'd forgotten something about Lizzie. She has the distinction of being the only doe I've ever owned who is a jumper. After about 10 minutes, she came flying out of the stall. Maybe she didn't like Pegasus's cologne or something. I put her back in there and moved the spool that she had used to launch herself. A few minutes later, I screamed as I saw her head and three legs clambering over the stall door. I was close enough that I was able to push her back. And I was worried enough about her breaking a leg in her next attempt, that I told Margaret we had to stand there for as long as she was in that stall.

I suppose I need to insert an explanation here about Nigerian dwarf does. While most people assume that animals are perfectly content to mate any ol' male when in heat, this is not true with Nigerians. They have a reputation for being rather persnickety about whose kids they bear -- and I am not the only person to have made this observation. Lizzie was clearly in heat -- tail flagging, making strange noises, and allowing the wether to mount her are all signs that she is definitely in heat. Georgie, the wether, doesn't know that he's not a real man, so he just keeps trying, and Lizzie was perfectly content to stand there and let him try.

Clearly, Lizzie had decided that Pegasus was the most despicable male she'd ever laid eyes on. So, before she broke a leg in her attempts to escape, we decided to put her back with the does. Besides, the buck had gotten lucky at least three times, so hopefully she was bred. I told Margaret, "Just take Lizzie to that second stall door, because Pegasus will follow her, and we'll be able to put him away." Clearly, I should have added, "AFTER we put Lizzie away!" because Margaret thought I wanted to put Pegasus away first. Do you see the problem with this picture?

Okay, maybe you don't see a problem yet, because I haven't told you that Draco was in that stall that we needed to put Pegasus into. And Draco knew there was a girl in heat right outside the door. He had already tried a few times to jump out of his stall. So, as soon as Margaret opened the stall door to put Pegasus in there, Draco tried to escape! He went running right between my legs, so I snapped my knees together on his shoulders. I attempted to take baby steps forward with him between my knees, and believe it or not, I actually got him back in the stall! But the second I let go of him, so Margaret could put Pegasus in, Draco shot out again! He did not make the same mistake of running between my legs this time, but I was able to grab his collar and stop him -- but only for a second. It all gets kind of blurry at this point, but the next thing I knew, Draco and Lizzie were both loose!

I started screaming, "No!" over and over again, as if that would stop him. I grabbed Lizzie's collar with my left hand and put my right hand over her back end. I get the feeling that Lizzie liked Draco, because she moved away from my hand, so unless I wanted goat kids of dubious heritage, I only had one choice. I dropped to my creaky old knees behind Lizzie to completely cover her back end with my body while hugging her around the neck, so that it would be impossible for Draco to do the deed.

I was laughing so hard by the time Margaret got the bucks locked up. She couldn't see my face though, so she wasn't sure if I was laughing or crying. Since Draco had not been successful -- and my knees had landed on soft straw when I dove on top of Lizzie -- it was hilarious. I wasn't hurt, and Lizzie had been bred by Pegasus and only Pegasus. We put Lizzie back with the does, and I said to Margaret, "Don't you miss this?"

Now, I just have to mark the calendar and wait 147, plus or minus a couple days.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bread fun

Originally uploaded by Antiquity Oaks
Here's the bread we had for Thanksgiving. (I just realized I never posted this!) I used my standard French bread recipe and then played around with it. I made two small, plain loaves (upper right), and I kneaded raw, chopped red onions into two loaves (upper left). The onion bread was gone first! Everyone who tried it went back for second helpings. And the bread in the front is just a braid. Make three long skinny ropes and braid it just as you would hair.

All of this bread was made from my regular batch of French bread dough, which includes:
3 cups warm water (bath temperature)
2 T. yeast
2 t. salt
7-8 cups of unbleached flour

I put all the ingredients in the Kitchen Aid bowl* with a dough hook, in the order listed. Start with only seven cups of flour, and if it's sticky, add more. It's always easy to add more flour, but if you've got a dough that's too dry, it's an icky nightmare to try adding more water. Once it's all mixed up, cover the bowl with waxed paper or a towel that was wet and wrung out. Let is rise until doubled in size, which could be 45 to 90 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Don't sweat it if you can't get back to it until it's more than double. If you're making regular loaves, this will make three, so cut into thirds and shape into a ball, a baguette, or skinny ropes to make braids, etc.

After braiding or putting into bread pans, bake at 400 degrees F for 20-35 minutes, depending upon how thick the bread is. The thicker it is, the longer it has to bake. The smallest loaves only took about 20-25 minutes. Onion loaves took 30. The braid took 35 minutes.

*Please note that I have the large Kitchen Aid (says "Professional" on the side). If you have a smaller mixer, you'll need to cut the recipe by roughly 2/3. (2 c. water, 1 1/2 T. yeast, 1 t. salt, 5-6 cups flour)

Edited at 9:40 a.m. Monday, thanks to readers' comments! Just holler if anything else is unclear.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gardening news from Elsewhere

I've started planning my 2010 garden, and I've come across a few articles I thought you might find interesting.

How's this for innovative? You have a yard but don't have the time or knowledge to plant a garden? These people will do the work for you! Check out Your Backyard Farmer. This also gave me an idea -- people sometimes comment on the blog that they wish they could have a garden, but they live in an apartment. Well, if you know someone who has a yard, maybe the two of you could team up to have a garden?

If you live in the New Orleans area and want a garden planted, you can help to feed the hungry while growing your own food. The Latinos Farmer Cooperative will install and plant a raised-bed garden in your backyard for $275, which includes three consultations during the growing season. Volunteers do all the work, and your $275 goes to a food pantry.

Urban gardening keeps getting more and more popular. In Kansas City, they're debating whether or not a home gardener can hire interns, as well as whether people can sell their produce from their yard.

If your really want to get inspired, here's a town in England that has a goal of being self sufficient in food production by 2018. From the progress they've made so far, I'm predicting they'll do it. They're planting gardens everywhere, and they're teaching classes in gardening, cooking, foraging, canning, and even chicken butchering. The article goes on and on about all the things they're doing. It's really fascinating.

And here's a story from South Carolina about a middle school that started its own garden.

If you're still looking for the perfect Christmas gift for a gardener in your life (or a wanna-be gardener), here's an article that recommends several good books on gardening. Of course, you could also buy one or two of these for yourself.

Today I'm going to decide what I want in my 2010 garden, inventory my current stock of seeds, and start going through the seed catalogs!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And the winner is . . .

The winner of the holiday give-away is Sally! Just drop me an email, deborah at antiquity oaks dot com, and tell me your address, so I can send your Shetland-llama yarn to you ASAP!

Thanks to everyone for entering!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Goats-n-barn update

If you know anything about the current weather in Illinois, then you know this is not a current picture. This also means that this post is seriously overdue!

When Sarah the apprentice was still here in November, she helped Mike to put a new goat door in the side of the barn. I had been wanting one for a long time, but I never pestered Mike about it much. A few years ago, I was at another farm where they had a metal barn, and the woman's husband had cut a hole in the wall for their chickens. Well, it looked like someone had ripped a hole in a piece of paper. There were jagged metal edges, which were dangerous, as well as ugly. Of course, I should have known that Mike would not do something like that to our barn. I'm glad I finally got the nerve to ask him to do it. The goats love it because they can go in and out of their stall all day long. We still close it up at night to keep them safe from predators. I probably love it more than the goats do, because it means that I don't have to round them up and bring them into the barn at night. They just head in on their own around sundown.

Many thanks to Sarah for the pictures!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A little southern girl in the 1960s

Whenever people ask if I grew up on a farm, I always say no. Well, that's not 100% true, but I really don't think it counts for much that I lived on a farm until I was only three years old. I have exactly two memories of that place, and since one involves coming face to face with a snake, it's a miracle I ever considered leaving the relative safety of the burbs. So, here's a little treat -- pictures of me with my father when I was a toddler on our south Texas farm outside of Refugio. When I told him we were moving out to the country in 2002, he looked at me as if I'd told him we were moving to Mars, and he said, "What do you want to do that for?" Unfortunately, I couldn't explain my reasons very well, and he died a few months later. There have been a lot of days when I wished I could ask him a question out here. Although he only had a sixth grade education, he had a wealth of agricultural knowledge prior to industrialization.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming -- If you missed yesterday's post, be sure to page down and sign up for the give-away! The deadline is Monday night.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Give-away from the farm

I decided to give away a hank of our yarn for Christmas. It's a Shetland wool/llama blend. You can have white, black, or gray. It's 250 yards, and it's supposed to be sport weight. The weight of each skein varies, and they normally sell for around $30.

What if you're not a knitter? No problem. You can still enter, and if you win, I'll send you three bars of our goat milk soap. Everyone uses soap, right? And if you don't, it makes a nice gift for someone who does.

Just leave a comment and let me know which one you'd like if you're the winner. Then page down to the next post to see what other people are giving away on their blogs.

If you have a blog and want to give away something this weekend, page down to the next post, and enter your information.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Give-Away

As promised, I'm hosting a give-away! Here is how it works:

  • Write up a blog post with information about the really cool item (or items) that you're giving away, as well as any information about limitations. (For example, be sure to let your readers know if you can't ship internationally.)
  • Use the Mr. Linky widget below to type in your name or the name of your blog and the link to your blog post.
  • On your blog, be sure to post a link back to this page, so that your readers can also see the other cool give-aways that they can enter!
  • Make the deadline midnight Monday, Dec. 14, so people will have plenty of time to visit your blog and enter.
  • You can choose your winner randomly, or you can set some sort of criteria for choosing the winner, such as most clever or touching comment.
  • Ship your give-away item by Friday, Dec. 18. If you must ship later, be sure to note that in the description, so your winner realizes the item might not arrive before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday give-away coming

I was so looking forward to the Sew, Mama, Sew holiday give-away, then I forgot about it for a couple weeks, and now it's too late! As I was sitting here brooding, it suddenly occured to me that I could host a give-away right here on my blog! So, here you go . . .

This is a great way to promote your blog and your products, if you make something, like soap, or if you're a shepherd and want to give away some roving or yarn. It's really up to you, but if you give away something perishable, just be sure it can be mailed safely. So, start thinking about what you'd like to give away!

On Friday, I'll have a blog post about the give-away, and there will be a Mr. Linky widget, so you can post your name and a link to your blog post. In your blog post, be sure to link back to my blog, so readers can visit the other blogs that are giving away fun stuff. Please keep your give-away open until midnight, Monday Dec. 14, to give people plenty of time to enter. You can choose winners however you want. It's your give-away. I'm just fascilitating. If you have any questions, please ask now, so we can have it all perfected by Friday!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

News from Elsewhere

Here are a few articles I've found online recently:

I've been thinking about 2010 apprentices, and I thought it would be a good idea to read descriptions from other farm internship programs. I found a number of farms with great programs, and I also found this article from the New York Times about college students doing internships on farms. What surprised me is how many of them were not majoring in agriculture or related fields.

It's exciting to see the documentaries being produced about the food revolution, like Fresh and Food, Inc. I just became aware of Dirt! The Movie. It's something most of us don't think about much, but it's really a deep subject. I can hardly wait to get the DVD and watch it.

Hard-hit community learns to grow food
is an article about Wilmington, Ohio, which has 15% unemployment. Through volunteers and donors, the local college is teaching people how to garden, as well as providing garden plots, tools, and seeds for them to actually grow their own vegetables. Although the program started with only 20 families, they're hoping to increase that number next year. They also offered instruction in preserving and cooking. If a family doesn't take care of their garden plot, they are quickly replaced by a family that is committed to the program.

And I also wanted to share this great recipe for Roast Pork with Maple and Mustard Glaze. We don't get any of our pork smoked, because we don't want nitrates in our meat, so this is a great way to have a pork roast that tastes a lot like ham. Do not try this with bacon (fresh pork sides) however, because it will stick to your skillet and make for a terrible mess to clean up!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let the baking begin!

If you were around last year, you know that I do a lot of cooking around the holidays. Okay, fine, compared to most people, I do a lot of cooking all the time. But during the holidays, I do even more. I like to have a good variety of sweets around the house during the holidays, so I start baking early and freeze some of it. Last year, I doubled all my cookie recipes and froze half of the cookies. I also started baking in November. By January 1, I had gained 15 pounds, and my knees were not happy. So, this year, I've held off until now.

I found this recipe when I was in college. I've loved cooking ever since I was eight years old. I remember the day I made my first cake. My mother had gone outside, and being a perfectly good reader, I pulled a cake mix out of the cabinet, mixed it up, and baked it. My mother was pleasantly surprised when she came inside to find a cake waiting for her.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I was cooking four or five course meals, and we didn't have a dishwasher, which meant I was leaving a big mess. I am amazed that my mother never insisted that I clean up the kitchen afterward. Maybe she liked my cooking enough that it made up for the mess? While other girls were subscribing to Seventeen and Cosmo, I was subscribing to Better Homes and Gardens and collecting recipes.

So, when I went off to college in Connecticut (far from Texas), I missed cooking. I went to the college library one day and found the 12th edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1984). I went out and bought a cookie sheet and the other baking utensils and supplies needed to make these cookies, which I still love to this day. Of the 1,800 recipes in the book, I have no recollection why I chose this recipes, but I'm glad I did. Since they have nutmeg in them, I tend to make them around Christmas, because nutmeg always reminds me of Christmas.

Sour Cream Cookies

2 eggs
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. sour cream
5 T melted butter
1/2 t. vanilla
2 c. flour (I used white whole wheat*)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream together the eggs, sugar, sour cream, butter, and vanilla, then add the dry ingredients. Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

They have a cake-like texture, and you can frost them if they're not sweet enough for you. You can freeze them in a single layer, then drop them into freezer containers or bags for storage. If you stack these cookies before they're frozen, the tops and bottoms will stick to each other.

*Most whole wheat flour is made from red wheat. White whole wheat has a lighter texture, which makes for lighter breads and pastries than regular whole wheat. I use King Arthur flour, which is available online if you can't find it locally.

For more recipes, check out Foodie Friday.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And the winners are ...

In true goat love fashion, Margaret and Karl let their goats choose the winners of the books.

CattyJackie is the winner of The Year of the Goat.

Annette wins Living With Goats.

So, CattyJackie and Annette, send an email to Margaret at Year of the Goat dot net and let her know your address, as well as what you'd like inscribed in the book, if anything special.

For more pictures of the goats deliberating and choosing the winner, you can visit Margaret over at Ten Apple Farm.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Farewell lambie

I started to worry about the little lamb on Thursday, because he would only take two ounces of his milk in the morning. I had a goal of getting him to take three, five-ounce bottles per day, and two ounces was quite a shortfall. Jonathan told me the temperature was expected to fall into the 20s Thursday night, so I decided to put the lamb in the barn office, which is heated. I didn't want him burning up any calories trying to keep himself warm, especially when he was taking less milk than the previous day.

I took him into the barn office Thursday night, and since my coat already had dried pig poo and mud on it from Pearl's Big Adventure, I cuddled the little lamb in my lap, not worried at all if he peed or pooped on me. I made up my mind that I would get five ounces into him if I had to sit there all night. He'd suck vigorously for a minute or two, then stop, as his eyes would close. I'd squeeze the bottle to push some milk into his mouth and remind him why he was hanging on to the nipple. Half an hour later, he finally swallowed the last few drops of the goat milk. I laid him on an old mattress pad that I'd folded over several times. He was only a few feet from the heater, so he would stay warm.

Friday morning, I warmed up his bottle of goat milk and picked up my camera, so I could take a picture of him to share with you. When I walked into the office and saw him, I knew he was dead. He was laying on his side exactly as he had been laying for the past week, but somehow I knew the life was gone. I walked up to him and touched him. He was cold and stiff. Part of my brain immediately yelled at me, "You shouldn't have taken him out of the barn! It was too stressful to bring him into the office. It's completely foreign to him." But another part of me wondered if this was for the best. He had no doubt been suffering. A lamb should be running through pastures, not laying limply in the straw. He should be nursing from his mama and grazing alongside her, not waiting for someone to dribble milk down his throat several times a day. And it seemed the strangest of ironies that I was trying to save his life only to butcher him next summer. Then I realized that is the irony of the farm every day with meat animals. We take care of them and feed them so we can end their lives at some pre-appointed time in the future.

Over the past two weeks though, he had earned a special place in my heart. Although I had been calling him Uniball since discovering his shortcoming, I no longer felt I could call him by a name that didn't recognize his amazing will to live. In fact, it now seems terribly disrespectful to have called him that. I wish I could say that I learned a lot from this experience and that I'll be able to better care for a sick lamb in the future, but if I did learn anything new about ovine care, I haven't realized it yet. Maybe I haven't processed this enough yet to be writing about it. Perhaps this experience is like so many on the farm and not so terribly unlike watching lambs bounce across logs or play hide-n-seek behind trees -- I've simply learned a little bit more about myself and gained a deeper understanding of life. Even though I doubted myself many times over the last couple weeks, I'm glad I tried to save him. I know that this little lamb is one of those animals that I'll never forget.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pigs vs. goat

Once upon a time, there was a very naughty little goat named Pearl. She was always going where she wasn't supposed to go. . . .

We were doing chores at sundown when I heard that familiar little "Maa! Maaaaaa!" coming from a not-so-familiar place. I looked toward the sound and saw Pearl running through the pig pen with two pigs chasing after her, snapping at her back end. Jonathan and I ran to the pen, and he was the brave one who jumped in there to save her. He said her tail was bleeding, so I picked her up and without my glasses couldn't see much other than bloody-red hair on the end of her tail. It was an enormous mental challenge to pick her up, since she was covered with pig poo and mud. Just imagine how bad that could be and multiply a few times. Knowing that mud, poop, and a bloody body don't normally make a healthy combination, there was only one option and only one sink big enough to bathe her. Yes, I had to bring her into the house, the laundry room, to be specific.

What was wrong with those grumpy old pigs? Pearl thought there was absolutely nothing wrong with going wherever she wanted to go, perhaps because she had been spoiled rotten as a kid, being raised in the house with the humans instead of in the barn and pasture with the other goats. And although she screamed every time Mama touched her tail because it hurt a lot, her little adventure had landed her back in the human house, which was her favorite place in her whole world, which wasn't very big (but she didn't know that). Her human mama was bathing her with lavender shampoo, and soon she'd smell lovely again. Maybe she'd get to sleep in Katherine's bedroom again, instead of that icky old barn!

My perception of the situation was not so positive. There are some things that you simply never imagine yourself doing -- like bathing a goat covered with mud and pig poo. My coat smelled like a porta-potty and looked like the floor of a porta-potty in the middle of a muddy field. But that's enough about my olfactory pain. Once I had Pearl clean and found my reading glasses, I was able to see what I'd suspected. The tip of her tail was missing. Since I couldn't see a bone, I'm guessing that they just nipped her and bit off skin only, along with some hair, of course. However, I couldn't help but think that it could have been much worse.

It was so great to be back in the human house, thought Pearl. Now that she was all clean, she was lying in Mama's lap on the couch, just like when she was a baby. When Mama got up, Pearl thought it was the perfect time to pee. Mama shrieked and ran upstairs to the laundry room. Pearl bounded up the stairs after her. Are we playing chase? When Mama stopped in the laundry room to grab a towel, Pearl thought it was the perfect time to poop. Why is Mama sighing and rolling her eyes? After Mama picked up the poop with toilet paper and tossed it in the big white bowl, she went downstairs with the towel and wiped up the pee. Then Mama said, "I'm sorry Pearl, but you're not a baby anymore. You have to go back outside with the other goats." And after giving her a hug and a kiss on the forehead, she put Pearl outside.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Join us for a visit with Margaret Hathaway

When most of us fell in love with goats or goat cheese or mohair or whatever, we just moved to the country and bought a few goats. Yeah, we had a few surprises along the way, but in the end, it all sort of worked out. However, Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz decided to do things a little differently. They fell in love with goats when they lived in New York City, and although they did like goat cheese, they wanted to fully explore the goat world -- meat, fiber, packing, even the Chicago Cub's Curse of the Billy Goat -- before deciding exactly what kind of goats they wanted. So, they quit their jobs in 2003, put all their worldly possessions in storage and started a year-long exploration of goats across the United States. Their first book, The Year of the Goat (which I reviewed on the blog last year) was published two years ago, and it chronicled their journey from NYC professionals to nomads to goat farmers.

Their second book, Living with Goats, was published last month. Margaret describes it as "the book I wish I'd had when I first became captivated by these animals." (Margaret is the writer, and Karl is the photographer.) It covers all the basics of goatherding: housing, fencing, feeding, breeding, raising kids, health, goat milk, goat meat, and a final chapter on other uses for goats, like fiber, packing, and showing. Lists of resources round out the book, including supplies and equipment you will need, breed registries, equipment suppliers, and other books about goats.

We first met Karl and Margaret when they visited our farm in the spring of 2004, which she wrote about in Chapter 14 of The Year of the Goat, and there are a couple pictures of us in their new book. I asked Margaret if she'd join us on the blog today, and she agreed. She'll be checking in today to answer your questions, and she has also generously agreed to give away an autographed copy of each book to two lucky readers. So, if you're interested in winning either a copy of Year of the Goat or Living with Goats, just leave a comment and let us know which book you would like to have. It's okay to say both, but you can only win one, and you have to leave your comment by midnight central time Friday. Winners will be chosen randomly and posted Saturday.

There are a few questions I've been wanting to ask Margaret myself, so I thought I'd take this opportunity ...

Deborah: After visiting goat farms all over the country and discovering all the different uses, why did you ultimately decide on dairy goats and why Alpines?

Margaret: When Karl and I were traveling, our favorite breed changed with every visit. We'd meet someone who raised Boers or Cashmeres or Saanens, and we'd get caught up in their enthusiasm for their animals. Especially when goats are well cared for and in great condition, it's easy to fall in love with any breed! We ultimately decided to raise dairy goats because I wanted to experiment with cheese making. We also wanted our farm to be a small, integrated homestead, and to do that, it was essential to have at least one milk-producing animal. (Lately, I've been lobbying for a dairy cow, too, but that's a whole other story....) We chose Alpines because their coloring and markings vary so much--I love that each goat has its own look. That said, we did add a Saanen doeling to the herd this spring, and one of our does is half Boer--we fell in love with her before we noticed her ears!

Deborah: What has been your most memorable moment so far in your life with goats -- good or bad?

Margaret: I think the most memorable moment with goats, for me, has been delivering our first kid. Our younger daughter, Beatrice, was only two weeks old, and Karl had just gone back to work from his paternity leave, when we heard the commotion in the barn. The doe was still pretty slight, so we weren't even sure that she was bred, and suddenly I was in the barn with an infant strapped to me in the baby wrap, my 22-month-old daughter, Charlotte, propped on a bale of hay, and a kidding kit, a couple of goat handbooks, and a big stack of towels! During the whole birth, I completely identified with the doe because my own labor was so fresh in my mind. I kept involuntarily pushing when she had contractions! The scene was total chaos--Charlotte cheering on the mama goat one minute and crying hysterically the next, Beatrice needing to nurse part way through, me wondering what on earth I was doing trying to juggle so many babies. Thank goodness it was a smooth delivery! Karl made it home a few minutes after the kid was born, so we were able to clean him up (of course it was a buckling) as a team. But it was a wild morning!

Deborah: Can you ever see yourself going back to life in the city?

Margaret: No, I really can't. I love the energy of cities, and I like to visit big cities at least a couple of times a year, but the farm is our home. The whole rhythm of our life is agricultural now--from the goats to the poultry to the gardens and orchard. We enjoy the work, and the feeling of satisfaction that we get from eating food we've grown or raised ourselves. This Thanksgiving we roasted our own turkey, mashed our own potatoes, served our own fresh and aged cheeses and some chicken confit and turnip pickles for appetizers--it was truly something to be grateful for, and it was wonderful to share the fruits of the homestead with our guests. I love that our daughters understand where their food comes from and are so comfortable with animals. Managing the whole menagerie can be tricky sometimes, but we wouldn't trade it.

Deborah: It doesn't sound like you live out in the middle of nowhere like we do. Can you tell us a little about where your farm is located?

Margaret: Our homestead is in southern Maine, about half an hour's drive from Portland. By day, Karl is the director of Aurora Photos, an international stock photography agency that's based in Portland, so when we were looking for property, we had to be within reasonable commuting distance. Because we're in such a densely populated part of the state, our ten-acre farm is ringed by subdivisions--we're a little island of agriculture in a sea of McMansions. We live in a farmhouse with an attached barn that was built in 1901, and we've been gradually rehabilitating the barn and the property for agricultural use, adding pens, stringing fence, tilling the garden and pruning the orchard. It's amazing to be able to bring life back to what once must have been a bustling farm! And despite the crowing roosters and the occasional turkey slaughter, our neighbors seem to get a kick out of our farming adventures.

Deborah: Did you always see yourself as a writer, or did you start thinking about it after you became interested in goats?

Margaret: My parents are both writers and they teach in an MFA program, so writing is kind of the family business! I did work on a lot of writing projects before--including a couple of ghost-writing projects and a (terrible) novel that I was working on when we lived in New York--but I think the goats helped me to find my writing voice.

Deborah: Will you continue writing? Do you have plans for additional books?

Margaret: Yes, I will continue writing and I do have plans for more projects. Right now, I'm working on some essays about life on the homestead and I'm blogging on our web site, I'm also planning a book project about life on the suburban homestead and how we're trying to find a balance between our agricultural life and being good, relatively normal neighbors. I'm not sure what shape the book will take, but it feels like a natural next project.

Okay, now don't be shy. If you have a question about goats, traveling, memoirs, or writing, post it in the comment section. And if you'd like to win one of her books, be sure to let us know before midnight Friday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lamb, cows, and a guest

The little lamb continues to improve. Yesterday he drank a total of 11 ounces of goat milk, and he started off this morning with five ounces! It took him nearly half an hour, but at least he drank it. No, he still can't hold up his head, which is why I haven't posted a picture. He looks dead just laying in the straw, but then you see his stomach move as he breathes. I do think he's overcoming his distrust of humans, or at least, me. He started to fall asleep in my lap this morning. It was hard to leave him, but cats, Patches and George, were fighting, and I felt I needed to break it up. Last time they got into it, both were walking on only three legs for a couple days.

Monday, Mike noticed Molly standing on the wrong side of the gate in the driveway. Since it's been about three weeks since the last time she got out, I'm thinking this is what she does when she's in heat, unlike Bridget, who just screams, uh, moos, bloody murder for a day or two. I just hope she hasn't figure out how to get in with the Herefords across the road and get herself pregnant. That would not be good, since they are a lot bigger than Dexters.

After getting her into the barn, I put a halter on her. We had to take their halters off a couple months ago, because they were getting too tight, and the next size up was too big. Well, this morning, I saw the halter hanging around Molly's neck. It had slipped off her nose, so apparently it is still too big. I would love to continue with the cow's halter training, but it's kind of hard to do when you can't find halters to fit. I'm getting quite the collection of unused halters.

Today, we were going to have a guest on the blog, but with the lamb taking up so much time, I completely forgot until last night, and you know how it is when company is coming. You need time to get ready and spruce up things. So I contacted her, and she kindly agreed to stop in tomorrow. I'm keeping her identity a secret for now, but I will give you a clue or two. She's an author, and if you like memoirs or goats, you'll love chatting with her. I'll have my post up bright and early Thursday morn, and you'll have the chance to visit with her through the day. And, oh yeah, we might have a couple free books to give away, as well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lamb update

He's still alive! In fact, yesterday I saw the first normal lamb-berry poop in a week, although there's not much of it. That's not surprising given the fact that in the last four or five days, he's only been consuming supplements and a few ounces of goat milk -- like three or four ounces in 24 hours, which is nothing substantial. This morning, he drank three ounces of milk, which is the most he's ever had at one time, and he was sucking like he would have liked more. I decided to wait a couple hours, and I'll head back out and offer him another couple ounces.

Since this was a dam-raised lamb, giving him a bottle is not an easy task. It's like feeding a very clueless newborn. He spends a lot of time chewing on the nipple, and I'm constantly redirecting it to the center of his mouth, where he can suck on it. But other than a syringe or stomach tube, this is the only way to get anything into him, so for now, it'll do.

Even though he still can't lift his head, I'm getting very optimistic. It is completely amazing to me that he is still alive and fighting. Once a goat goes down, they're either dead or visibly better within 12 hours. I've never had one hang on for a few days, much less a whole week. This little guy is such a fighter!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nursing a sick lamb

Monday night (yes, almost a week ago), I was doing chores, and I saw a ewe lamb run past a three-month-old ram lamb. He fell down. It made no sense, so I made a mental note to come back and check on him. After finishing the rest of my chores, I went back and saw that he had not moved from the spot where he fell. As I approached him, he didn't attempt to run away. When I picked him up, he felt unusually light and limp. Then I smelled it -- diarrhea. This is the little guy that had coccidia a month ago, so I immediately gave him more of the medication, assuming that the coccidiosis had returned. I gave him a 50/50 chance of being alive the next morning, because I've almost never seen a goat survive after they are so weak that they can't walk. This is the first time I've ever had a sick lamb though.

But he was alive Tuesday morning . . . and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and even today. Each day, he has been getting weaker, which hardly seems possible. And every day I've been thinking that tomorrow he would be dead. Six or seven years ago, I would have immediately put him in the truck and driven down to U of I Vet School. I did that with more than one goat. Since the vets are also professors, and they're surrounded by students, I had the benefit of listening to them explain everything to the students. I learned a lot. And one of the things I learned was that vets can't do much for livestock that get sick. Since they're considered "food animals," the emphasis is on herd health. If an animal has something contagious, the advice is to cull. If an animal has a condition that doesn't affect the rest of the herd, the emphasis is on the bottom line. How much is this animal worth? Livestock vets don't see a lot of clients who are emotionally attached to their animals. It took me more than a couple years, but I eventually made the mental transition from "pet owner" to "farmer."

After reading Diarrhea (scours) in small ruminants by the University of Maryland Extension Service, I checked his eyelids and realized he was anemic, so he was also probably fighting worms. I've given him Cydectin for the worms, as well as daily doses of "pig paste," which is a probiotic with iron in it. I've also been giving him NutriDrench, which is propylene glycol and molasses with vitamins and minerals. Yesterday, he was no longer able to lift his head to drink, so I started giving him water with corn syrup in a bottle. I really thought he would be dead this morning, but when he made it through another night, I decided to see if he could tolerate goat milk. He loved it and eagerly sucked on the bottle.

I'm trying not to get attached to him, because he also happens to be a cryptorchid (has only one testicle descended), so he is worthless as a ram and can't easily be castrated to become a fiber wether. Why am I trying so hard to save an animal whose fate is to eventually become lamb chops? Some could reasonably argue that it would be more humane to simply put him down. At times like this, I wonder if I have really come so far from the emotionally-attached pet owner in suburbia. I've no doubt that some "real" farmers would have put him down by now, rather than invest the time to bottle feed him, medicate him, and attempt to clean the diarrhea off his back end. I'm not sure if I'm eternally optimistic or naive, but I just keep thinking that if he was meant to die, he would have died. Who am I to make that decision? So, I'll just have to keep trying to get him well, while guarding my heart against his inevitable end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

News from Elsewhere

I'm always finding interesting articles from Elsewhere (as opposed to here, which is the Middle of Nowhere) and it recently occurred to me that some of you might be interested. About once a week, or whenever I have a few articles of interest to share, I'll post links with brief descriptions. So, here goes:

  • Using fireplace ashes in your garden is an interesting article, which is perfectly titled. You'll learn what's in ashes, when it's helpful in your garden, and when not to use it. Mike is headed out right now to spread ashes on our hayfield, and our wood stove will produce a lot more ashes over the winter.

  • I've blogged about the Dervaes family in the past, but now there is a documentary film, HomeGrown, that shows you how they grow 6,000 pounds of produce on their 1/5 acre urban lot in Pasadena, CA.

  • Here's a great story about a family that has a grassfed dairy in Iowa. The pictures of their beautiful Jersey cows in the pasture are stunning.

  • Also in Iowa, they're researching how to use grass to control weeds in vineyards. Sounds weird, but it appears to be working better than mulch or cultivation!

  • E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection is the story of a commercial hamburger. Who could have imagined that a single hamburger patty could contain beef from three different states, as well as Uruguay? And how can anyone think that we can have any level of quality control on food like that?

  • I came across Local Burger's website the other day, and if you live in Kansas, I'm jealous! I wish we had a restaurant like this near us!
Local Burger is leading the evolution of fast food with fresh, organic, local, and sustainable fare that is free of unnatural additives and preservatives. At Local Burger, we consider the special diet, the environment, the economy, animal welfare, and the health of everyone who eats our food.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all that fertilizer that's sprayed on cornfields in the Midwest? If you enjoyed King Corn, the documentary film about how corn is grown and how it's used in our food supply -- kind of like you enjoy a horror flick -- you might like to see what happens next. Ian and Curtis are back with Big River, a new documentary, which tells us the rest of the story on industrialized corn.

Big River Trailer from Wicked Delicate Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to write a brief post today to tell all of you how thankful I am that you're a part of my life (whether or not you're in the U.S. today celebrating Thanksgiving). I don't even remember why I started this blog four years ago, but I know that today I keep writing because of you. I appreciate all of the feedback -- yes, all of it. Of course, it feels good when people "get it" and agree with me, but it's also important when I know that I haven't done a good job of communicating my ideas. I know we don't have all the answers about food, animal husbandry, sustainability, and definitely not gardening, but we love to keep trying, and if I can help just one of you avoid some of my mistakes, then it's worth it for me to keep writing. And if you're reading this to live vicariously through me, that's cool too. We talked about this for nine years before taking the plunge and moving out here, so I really believe that everything happens in its own time, whenever it's meant to happen. We can't push the creek to make it move faster.

Now, I have to get down to the kitchen and start peeling vegetables, stuffing the turkey, mixing up the bread dough and a dozen other things. Company is coming in four hours, and people always expect a lot of good food when they visit. Can't say I blame them. I expect a lot of good food from my kitchen every day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Curried pumpkin soup & the Firefly Grill

The sensory highlight of the Organic Gardening Day for me was lunch! I think it was the sensory highlight for a lot of people. Every time anyone mentioned lunch, people started cheering and clapping. The conference center happily catered to our group's every whim by bringing in all sorts of fresh, organic, locally grown produce and meats to create some outstanding dishes.

The curried pumpkin soup was my personal favorite. It's a creation of Chef Niall Campbell of the Firefly Grill in Effingham, IL. Their remote location has not slowed them down one bit -- they've been featured in Bon Apetit as one of the "hot ten" eco-friendly restaurants in America and in the Chicago Tribune as a "restaurant worth the trip," which is 210 miles from the city! The building is made from recycled steel and reclaimed barn wood. They have their own on-site organic garden, which is irrigated with water from their pond, and they buy produce, meat, and dairy from about 45 farmers. Chef Niall says he can drive past the farm that raises his beef and see the cattle out there grazing. Talk about quality control! But really it's about taste -- fresh just tastes better.

The moment I tasted the curried pumpkin soup, my taste buds were in culinary heaven. I ooohed and mmmed and sighed. I was even more excited because I'd already seen the copy of the recipe and knew I'd be able to duplicate this delicacy at home. Of course, it uses a real pumpkin. Chef Niall prefers to use one of the heirlooms, such as Long Island Cheese or the Cinderella Pumpkin (Rouge Vif d'Etampes), which run in the 10-pound range, according to my Seed Saver Exchange catalog. So, without further ado, here is the recipe -- and as a really special treat, Chef Niall and Kristie, his wife, who helps him run the restaurant, have agreed to pop in a couple times on Wednesday to answer any questions that you might have about the recipe or their restaurant!

Curried Pumpkin Soup

1 whole pumpkin
1 1/4 T. unsalted butter
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
2 oz. chopped ginger
1 T. coriander powder
1 T. turmeric
1 T. white pepper
1 T. cumin
1 T. cardamon
1 T. cinnamon
1/2 T. clove
1 T. fenugreek seed crushed
1 c. orange juice
1 c. cream
salt and pepper to taste

Roast whole pumpkin at 350 degrees for 1 hour until soft. Make certain to save juice in dish and run through a fine mesh strainer. Let pumpkin cool and remove all seeds, remove skin and cut pumpkin into 2" X 2" pieces. In a large pot combine butter, onions, and ginger and cook on medium heat for two minutes until melted. Add pumpkin, orange juice, cream, pumpkin juice, and spices, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes then puree with immersion blender or food processor and serve.

Did you kill rosemary?

Among the highlights of Organic Gardening Day, I won a two-foot tall rosemary plant. They raffled off about eight of them, and as they were doing so, I heard several people around me talking about how they'd killed rosemary multiple times. Still, I coveted those rosemary plants and really hoped I'd win one. When they called my number, I was as excited as any little kid on Christmas morning. Then as I proudly walked away with my lovely rosemary plant, people began telling me their rosemary tales of woe.

"I've killed so many, I don't even try to overwinter them anymore," said one woman.

"We always kill them," said another. "I think we overwater them," chimed in her husband.

"Oh, that's so pretty," said another woman, "but I always kill them. I think I underwater them."

"But she said they kill theirs with too much water," I said as I pointed to the woman behind me. The underwatering gardener just shrugged with a questioning look on her face.

Not one to be deterred, I walked right up to the man who had been conducting the drawing and asked him what I should do to keep my rosemary alive over the winter. He said it needs to stay cool, but in a sunny spot, and I should make sure not to give it too much water if it goes dormant. If it keeps growing, however, it will need more water. I should have asked how I would know if it was dormant.

So, I came home and posted on Facebook that I'd won this lovely plant, which everyone says they kill, and I pleaded for someone with some level of positive rosemary knowledge to chime in on the subject. What did I get? Five rosemary killer confessions and one who says she can't kill hers with a blow torch, but she has no idea why it's thriving.

So, what about all of you? Is there anyone out there who can tell me the secret to keeping rosemary alive over the winter?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Insanely busy, fun weekend

Before I could even begin to write today's post, I had to just sit and think. I'm sitting at the dining room table and watching the geese on the pond. It looks so effortless and relaxing the way they seem to just float across the water. If you think about it though, you know that they're paddling their feet underneath. But that's what geese do. It's in their nature to be paddling gracefully across the pond. By contrast, they look clumsy and awkward on dry land.

People sometimes tell me that I make my lifestyle look easy. I always laugh. It's not easy, but I love what I'm doing -- just like those geese. The past three days are a perfect example. They're a bit of a blur. Every moment was packed, except when I was sleeping, and I only had four hours of sleep Friday night!

On Friday, an aspiring apprentice took the train from Chicago to spend a day with us, seeing what we do and deciding if this is really what she wants to do next spring as an independent study for five weeks in April and May. While she was here, we had to go about our daily chores, which included (on that day) breeding goats and trying to stop the sheep from breeding. We had to catch the rams to relocate them 1/4 mile away from the ewes so that I don't wind up with a flock of unregisterable lambs next spring.

On Friday, our new milking machine arrived. We generally milk no more than 10 goats at a time, because that's about all that our daughters can handle, and I can only do about four at a sitting before my hands feel like they're going to fall off. (I know I'm a wimp!) So, after seven years of hand milking, we finally decided to take the plunge and get a two-goat milker. With everything else going on, we only had a few minutes to unpack it and give it a cursory look. When Mike's Thanksgiving break starts on Wednesday, it's going out to the barn, and we'll figure out what kind of adjustments we need to make in order to start using it.

Saturday began at 3 a.m. as Mike and I headed down to Arthur with our paltry nine turkeys that we raised this year. It's the smallest number of turkeys we've raised since -- well, ever! (You can read more about our turkey hatching woes here and turkey-coyote woes here.) Anyway, we arrived at the poultry processing facility at 6:30ish and were able to unload immediately, which was great because our day was just beginning!

After a quick breakfast at Yoder's, we headed back up I-57 to Champaign to attend U of I's Organic Gardening Day. I was worried about being able to stay awake with only four hours of sleep, but it was not a problem. (Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.) After 20 years of struggling with gardening, I've finally decided that trial and error isn't always the most expedient way to learn things. (Yeah, I can be a slow learner sometimes.) So, when a friend told me about this workshop, I figured out how to make it work (after briefly whining about it being on our turkey processing day). I have a lot of info that I can't wait to share with you, but it will have to be spread out over the next week or two.

Yesterday, Mike and I delivered turkeys and took home Sarah, our wonderful apprentice, whose three weeks was already over. This was the first year that I helped deliver turkeys, and it was fun to finally meet some of our customers (very few compared to previous years). It was sad saying bye to Sarah however. She's been an awesome apprentice, and after about the third time yesterday that I said, "I miss Sarah," Mike joked, "If you're going to get this attached to interns, you can't have any more." I put on my best toddler-pouting face, and he laughed.

It's very quiet around here today. I can hear the ticking of the clock on the wall. It's just me, because Mike and Katherine are at school. Jonathan is spending a week at his grandparent's helping take care of his grandfather who has Alzheimer's. Margaret will be arriving home from U of I tomorrow, and I can hardly wait to see her. Although I have to teach tomorrow, I need to get started with my Thanksgiving cooking. I have a cranberry sauce recipe that says you can make it up to a week ahead of time, and I need to bake my pumpkin cookies. I need to make a batch of chevre today, so we can use that for chocolate truffles and a pumpkin cheesecake. Life isn't slowing down any time in the foreseeable future, but I love it -- and that's the important thing, right?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Those rascally rams

We should have known that it was too good to be true. The rams had stayed in their pen ever since we separated them from the ewes a month ago. This weekend we were going to put them into breeding groups, but yesterday as I was driving down the road, I saw this: a busted gate and a contented Teddy lounging in the ewe's pasture. The other rams were off in the hayfield grazing.

The picture didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but that's a 4 X 4 piece of lumber that we attached horizontally to the livestock panel, and it extended beyond the post. Somehow they moved the 4 X 4 enough that they were able to push the lower part of the panel through the opening. I can't even begin to explain how difficult it is going to be for us to unstick the livestock panel from its new position. I could explain how we thought that this was a brilliant idea for so many reasons, but obviously we were wrong, so there's not much point.

Now it is pointless to put them into breeding groups, because whoever lambs in five months could be the product of what happened today, or it could be from a breeding that happened shortly after separating them into groups. We'll have to separate them again -- oh, that's going to be fun -- and wait a couple weeks so that at least we'll know which ones are of dubious heritage.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where to start?

"Voting with your dollars" has become a common refrain for people in the sustainable movement. When you buy conventional apples, you are voting for conventional apples. Farmers will grow what we are willing to buy. Since cost is the number one objection most people voice against buying organic, that has to be discussed first. Yes, some organic foods are more expensive than conventional, but the key word is some. That tea in my grocery cart is a store brand organic, and it costs exactly the same as the conventional Lipton tea. When people buy Lipton Earl Grey instead of the organic Earl Grey, they've just voted for conventional tea. What really confuses me is that I've seen Tazo tea -- in two different supermarkets now -- priced the same for organic chai and regular chai. If the regular chai isn't gathering dust on the shelf, then the Tazo people are might stop making the organic, especially if it costs more to produce. So, my first tip is to simply pay attention to the prices. Organic is not always more expensive. In fact, yesterday the organic gala and honeycrisp apples were actually 20 cents a pound cheaper than the conventional gala!

Second, if you can't buy organic, at least buy natural. Instead of buying the broccoli with cheese sauce in the freezer section, just buy plain broccoli. Educate yourself about the difference between food and food-like substances. Cheddar cheese is food; Cheez Whiz is a food-like substance. Your best bet is to buy things without an ingredient list or nutritional facts -- things like fresh broccoli and apples. But if it has an ingredient list, read it -- and avoid foods that contain ingredients that you can't pronounce or that have undergone a process that you can't repeat in your own kitchen, like ethoxylating and hydrogenating.

Third, grow what you can. I had big plans for bringing tomatoes into the house this fall, but the blight killed them all. At times like this, it's nice that we have the ability to bring in food from other places, but it shouldn't be a regular habit. It was actually a little frustrating, however, to see organic tomatoes from Canada in the grocery store. If they can grow tomatoes in Canadian greenhouses, why can't we do it in Illinois? But I digress -- you can grow some of your own food, even if you live in an apartment. We grow alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts regularly, and there are all sorts of fresh herbs you can grow in pots. In fact, some do better in pots than in the ground. You can also grow tomatoes and potatoes in pots. My tomato plan fell through this year, but I'm still hoping to try potatoes.

Know that you can change your eating habits if you're motivated to do it. My kids laugh at me when I say that 22 years ago, I thought pickles and potato chips counted as vegetables in your diet. I am not joking. I thought a cheeseburger (on a white bun with American cheese) and potato chips was a nutritionally complete meal. But I started reading, and I started making changes where I could. As a result, my children have grown up eating a nutritious diet, knowing how to cook for a family, and now knowing how to grow a lot of their own food. And it all started two decades ago when I stopped buying a liter of soda every day and started buying unbleached flour and brown rice. Today, I'm researching how to grow my own mushrooms in the basement. Don't worry about growing your own tomatoes if you're still eating Twinkies and Bic Macs. Figure out where you're at today, and make one little change. Next week, make another change . . . and then another . . . and then another . . .

Today's post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade! and Frugal Friday at Life as Mom!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review of "Food, Inc"

Do you eat genetically modified food? Yes, you do, unless you grow and produce everything yourself. According to Food, Inc, which is now available on DVD, 70% of the processed food in the supermarket has genetically modified food in it. If you consume any soy products -- including "vegetable" oil -- there's a 90% chance that you're consuming genetically modified soy.

We went to the theater to see Food, Inc when it was released this past summer, and within a couple minutes, I was trying to remember if I had anything in my purse with which I could take notes. The information comes fast and furious in this documentary, so if you seriously want to know more about your food, you might want to plan to watch it at least a couple times before sending it back to Netflix. Then again, you might just want to buy it.

The movie relies heavily on information from Michael Pollan (author of Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food) and Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), who also narrate parts of the film. We are taken through commercial chicken farms and a pork slaughterhouse to see the plight of meat animals, as well as the workers in those facilities. It doesn't take long for the viewer to realize that poultry farmers are little more than indentured servants to corporate giants like Tyson. After taking out loans of half a million dollars or more to build their poultry houses, they have no choice but to raise chickens according to the corporation's rules -- and subsist on wages that hover around the poverty level. The deleted scenes on the DVD offer more of the interview with the poultry farmers, giving the viewer a better understanding of their plight.

Stories from a meat-packing plant were equally disturbing. At the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world, 32,000 hogs are slaughtered every day. Workers who handle pork all day long wind up with infections under their fingernails, which then fall off. In the deleted scenes, we hear about a 200-pound dead hog falling on a pregnant woman, who then had a miscarriage. Another worker tells of how there was not even a moment of silence before returning to work when a man was trampled to death by hogs. Because of the bad treatment of workers at the plant, most employees are now bussed in from a 100-mile radius around the facility.

We follow a family through a fast-food drive-through lane, as well as a supermarket and listen to them justify why they buy cheeseburgers for their daughters but not fresh fruit -- even though their young daughter begs for a pear in the grocery store. "It's too expensive." The father, who has Type II diabetes spends $130 for a bottle of 50 pills, and that's only one of his medications. They seem conflicted about whether a change in diet might actually help his condition, even though the evidence is quite clear. I personally took care of my father for two years before he died, and within a month after he moved in with me, he no longer needed any of his three different diabetes medications, and we kept his blood sugar under control with diet until his death. Type II diabetes used to be rare. Today, $1 out of every $5 spent on health care is spent on diabetic patients.

There is some good news though. There is a visit to Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Virginia, where he raises pastured chickens and grass-fed beef. He talks about healing the land, our planet, and our bodies by switching to sustainable agricultural practices. One comment that resonated with me was when Salatin said that we should strive to have fewer sick people next year. That would be a worthy goal.

These are just a few highlights. I can't possibly cram all the info into a blog post, so if you're serious about healthier eating, I highly recommend this video.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also want to read my review of Fresh, another documentary released this year about our food system.

For more posts on real food, check out Real Food Wednesday.


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