Saturday, July 31, 2010

Zucchini spice cake

It's zucchini season, and one of my favorite things is zucchini spice cake. (Another thing I love about this time of year are the gladiolas!) Quick note before I forget -- if you use green, black, or gray zucchini, you'll have green specks in the cake. I used golden zucchini, which is why you don't see any green. This is important for those of you with loved ones who refuse to eat zucchini-anything. I seriously suspect that they just don't like green specks in their food, so if you use golden zucchini or just peel the zucchini, they'll never know.

Now, I have to get back out to the garden, so here you go:

2 c. shredded zucchini
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. unbleached flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. water
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. ground nutmeg
1 t. vanilla
3 eggs

Mix everything together and beat for a couple minutes. Pour into a greased and floured 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Frost with chevre frosting, if desired:

4 ounces chevre (soft goat cheese)
1 T. milk
1 t. vanilla
2 1/4 c. powdered sugar

This will give you a thin layer of frosting. If you really like a lot of frosting, you can double it. And if you're not lucky enough to have your own goats, you can make a cream cheese frosting, as well. Store the cake in the refrigerator, because it will grow mold within a couple days if you leave it at room temperature, and that's really sad.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tis the season for eatin'

Homemade chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream
in a baked meringue shell with caramel sauce
I just realized why I usually write so much about food in the summer -- it's because I'm cooking all the time, except when I'm working in the garden or milking goats. I'm looking at food, working with food, and eating like a queen July through September.

Blackberries are in the woods, and Mike has been picking them once a week for the past couple weeks. There are some bushes that haven't even ripened yet, so for whatever strange reason, the blackberry harvest seems to be prolonged this year.

In the garden, we're getting green beans, several types of squash, tomatoes, onions, sweet and hot peppers, and basil.

We're milking 13 goats, which provides us with almost two gallons of milk a day after all the goat kids are fed. That means we are making lots of cheese, as well as buttermilk, yogurt, ice cream, and more. Yesterday, I experimented with a recipe for cajeta. None of the recipes I found were very complete, so I had no idea whether this would take an hour or all day. As it turns out, it took about six hours, which was more than I expected. It's basically a caramel sauce, and all you're doing is reducing goat milk, sugar, and a tiny bit of baking soda until it turns golden and sweet! This is what I used:

2 quarts goat milk
2 cups sugar
1/2 t. baking soda

I whisked it all together and put it on the stove to simmer or gently boil for hours and hours. When it was a light tan color, I tasted it -- perfect dulce de leche for coffee -- so I poured off enough to fill up my cream pitcher, and this morning we used it for our coffee. It reminded me of those artificial creamers that I used to use when I lived in the burbs -- except I knew this didn't contain any multi-syllabic ingredients that were unpronounceable. I continued boiling the rest of the mixture on the stove, and a few hours later it was caramel colored. It was evening by then, which meant it was time for me to milk goats again, so I turned off the stove, because I didn't want it to suddenly turn into fudge while I was gone.

The caramel sauce in the above photo is what I wound up with.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sharing our gifts

If you've been reading my blog for at least a year, you might recall that I wrote a lot about food last summer. In one post, I complained about an email I received requesting donations for a food pantry -- donations of food-like substances, such as Jell-o, which have absolutely no nutrition in them. I spent a lot of months thinking about that problem, and in January, I presented an idea to my church. Would anyone be interested in helping to create a garden for the purpose of donating fresh produce to a shelter, soup kitchen, or food pantry? The response was an overwhelming yes!

People gave of their time, money, seeds, equipment, and enthusiasm. In April, we dedicated our garden space and built six raised beds. Then in May, we planted. For the past few weeks, we have been harvesting cucumbers, green onions, squash, beets, and green peppers to donate to Morningstar Mission, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Joliet, IL. Soon, our 24 tomato plants will start to ripen hundreds of pounds of tomatoes.

Last Friday, seven of us visited Morningstar to learn more about their needs and how we can help them with our garden. It was inspiring and educational, and I realized that they are grateful for every single cucumber or tomato we donate. They serve 20 meals a week -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday, and breakfast and dinner on Sunday. Most meals average 150 to 200 guests, but it has hit 300. Jackie Kinney, who gave us the tour, said that three years ago, their average meal served only about 75, but the downturn in the economy has caused a huge increase in demand. It's a beautiful facility funded almost entirely with private donations. They do so much to help their guests rise up out of poverty and live better lives.

There is so much that I want to do, but I'm not rich. Still, I have gifts that can be shared. One of the lessons that I have to continually relearn is that just because I can't do everything does not mean that I shouldn't do whatever I can. Right now, our little garden and our handful of volunteers can provide fresh vegetables for people who need them, and that's a good thing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Of milking goats and snapping beans

"What you're doing is cool, but it's an awful lot of work."

I've heard that refrain more than a few times when people learn about our lifestyle. Why would anyone want to milk goats or have a garden when we can go to the grocery store and buy everything we need? Because there are some things that you can't find at the grocery store.

I could buy goat cheese at the store, but making my own cheese gives me a sense of pride and independence. I also feel secure knowing how my goats live, what they eat, and what they do NOT consume, especially in the way of drugs. This morning, as I watched the yearlings browsing on willow trees, I realized how much I enjoy teaching them to be milk goats. Because they're raised by their mothers, I often don't have a very close bond with them when they're babies, but once they become mothers, we become best friends. I offer them a pan of grain and coax them onto the milk stand. They learn that I'm their friend, and it's okay to share their milk with me. Because I used to be lactating myself many years ago, I feel a special mom-to-mom bond with them. Within a couple weeks, the milk goats that were raised by their mothers are just as friendly as the ones that were bottle-fed by humans. It probably is a lot of work for people who get paid to work in a dairy, but my goats are not a job.

This afternoon, Mike, Katherine, and I sat around the table and snapped beans that they had picked from the garden. I remembered my mother snapping beans when I was a little girl. Although we lived in town, my parents always had a garden. My mother would sit in a porch swing and snap beans, while I played in the yard and talked to her. As my husband and daughter and I snapped beans this afternoon, we talked about things that we probably wouldn't have talked about if we hadn't taken the time to snap beans. We didn't solve the problems of the universe or make any grand plans. We talked about the beans and Japanese beetles and complained about the lack of rain as the sky darkened with clouds. Some people might say it's a lot of work to snap almost five pounds of beans, but I don't think so. How often do we just sit and talk about the little things in life?

When people today talk about feeding their family, they're usually talking about working at a job and making money, so they can buy groceries. But what we do out here is literally feeding our family. We take care of our animals and our garden, and they feed us. But they feed more than just our bodies. They provide us with beauty, companionship, exercise and a reason to get out of bed every day. Yes, you can buy goat cheese and green beans, but that's all you get for your money. Once you've filled your stomach, there is nothing left but an empty package.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lopsided udder epidemic

It seems that most people who show big dairy goats bottle-feed their kids. When we started showing our Nigerians in 2005, which was the year they were accepted for registration in ADGA, several people with standard dairy goats asked, "Don't you have trouble with kids ruining the udders?" when they learned that our kids nurse on their moms. I didn't even understand the question the first time I heard it, but I was told that some kids have a preference for one side or the other, which can lead to lopsided udders. Whether you're miking or showing, it's nice for a goat to have a balanced udder with both sides producing the same amount of milk.

Just as we human moms sometimes think that our human kids are smarter than someone else's, I assumed that my little Nigerian kids were smarter than the big goat kids. And just as that thought comes back to haunt you as a human mom, it has come back to haunt me with the goats!

Last year -- our seventh year with goats -- we sold a kid who had a twin sister that was nursing on only one side. Apparently each kid had their own personal teat, but we didn't know until a week later when I looked at the mama and saw that her udder looked like a balloon with a large teat on the bottom and a tiny teat sticking off to the side! One side of her udder had already dried up! I was mortified and felt terribly guilty. We got that goat dried up as quickly as we could, hoping that her udder wouldn't be permanently unbalanced. When she freshened this year, it was lovely again, so we had managed to survive that big goof. Then we completely forgot about the possibility of a kid having a favorite side. That was just a fluke, right?

Wrong! This year, two goats had singles, and the kids chose a favorite side. We didn't realize it until the does were fresh for a week, so the udders were already getting terribly unbalanced. We tried milking out the less-favored side, hoping to increase production. The teat on the non-favored side was about twice the size as the favorite side, so by milking that side, the teat was the same size as the other side, and we hoped that perhaps the kid would be more willing to nurse on that side. Maybe they did nurse on that side once in a while, but certainly not enough to get the halves evened out. Both does were first fresheners, so we've continued milking them now that their kids are gone, and we're hoping that production will even out. I think it is happening with one goat, but not with the other.

But wait, that's not all! Last Friday, we sold one of Cleo's does. Cleo is five years old and one of our best milkers, and apparently her little doelings had assigned teats, because yesterday Katherine happened to notice that she was lopsided! Five days would be enough time for some goats to dry up almost completely, but since Cleo is older and a great producer, I'm hoping that her udder will bounce back. Because we're getting two gallons of milk a day, we were not milking any goats that had kids on them, but it's obvious that we need to be milking Cleo now.

It is also obvious that we need to check does' udders whenever we sell a kid to make sure that the udders are not getting lopsided. And when we start freshening goats next spring, we need to check udders of does with single kids to make sure they're not lopsided. Maybe I should post a sign in the kidding barn reminding us, so that we don't forget again by next spring. Of course, Murphy's Law of Goat Udders would say that as long as we're checking, they'll all be fine, and the first time we forget to check, it'll be a problem again!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Technical difficulties

Maybe you've noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately. Of course, we are incredibly busy this time of year, but there's more to it than that. Our desktop computer died a couple weeks ago, which causes more than one problem. I have a laptop, which I've been using for the last three years, while my children have been using the desktop, and now that it's dead, I have a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old with whom I have to share my laptop, so my computer time is limited. Second problem is that we had PhotoShop on the desktop, so now I don't have any photo editing software. My last photo was prepared using Web Resizer, a free online software that has limited functionality, but at least it makes the photos smaller, so they don't take forever for your computer to download.

I'm not sure when we'll be able to buy a new computer, because we have a lot of big expenses this time of year like buying hay and getting the propane tank filled, which adds up to two or three thousand dollars. But that's only half the problem, because we'll still have to buy PhotoShop, which will cost as much as, or more than, the computer.

My laptop is a MacBook, and when I downloaded photos onto here from Katherine's camera, it plopped them into the iPhoto library, which has software that has very few options for editing and is not intuitive at all. In other words, I can't figure it out. I can't even figure out how to get those pictures into Web Resizer, because I can't find them.

So, I need a new routine for blogging, as well as a new way of editing photos. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shearing day

Yes, I called a professional sheep shearer. If you missed my original angst about us not shearing the sheep this year, you can check it out here. My new motto is,
You haven't failed as long as you've learned something!
And we learned a lot through this little ordeal.

We learned that we don't like to shear sheep, and that's okay. It only has to be done once a year, and it's not the end of the world for us to hire a pro to do the job. With a flock of around 20 sheep, we would probably never be good at shearing, because it takes a lot of practice to be able to do it well. It looks ridiculously easy, but it is actually quite challenging. The professional sheared 15 sheep in less time than it took us to shear two. So, from here on out, I am hiring a sheep shearer without apology. Most of those people who ask if we shear our own sheep have never even spun wool, seen a lamb born, milked a sheep, or even touched a sheep, so why should it be hard for me to say that we don't shear our sheep?

Now for this year's shearing story -- The most challenging part of the day was getting the sheep into the barn. One of the other things I have not perfected is dog herding, so Porter still works on lead, which makes his effectiveness only slightly better than a human. On the bright side, we now own eight rolls of Premier's Electro-Net, which means it is enough to create an alley all the way from the sheep pasture to the barn. The only challenge was to get the sheep into the funnel. Mike was incredibly confident that this would be so easy, I didn't even need to help. Jonathan, Katherine with Porter, and Mike would simply herd the sheep into the large funnel and walk behind them until they got to the barn. Easy, right?

Nothing around here is ever as easy as you think it is going to be! Just as we were getting started, there was the roll of thunder. If I saw that in a movie, I'd think it was so contrived! But yes, it did start raining just as we were ready to start herding the sheep. It's July, though, so it's not cold, and no one really cared. Mike thought that the bigger he'd made the funnel, the easier it would be to get the sheep moving into the alleyway of fencing. Wrong! It gave them too much time and space to realize, "It's a trap! Turn back! Turn back!" When 16 sheep turn and start running toward three people, there isn't much the people can do. I was watching from a distance and laughing. They didn't need my help, remember? The sheep didn't stop running until they reached the hay field, which is at the east end of our property.

Mike realized his problem, so he reset the fencing, creating a smaller funnel, so that four people could move in and block the opening as soon as the sheep ran into it. Yes, they realized they did need my help after all! We had very little problem with our plan from then on, except for Snuggles, our only Old English Southdown. I'm really surprised he has not been eaten by a coyote, because I've never seen anything cause him to hustle. He is, without a doubt, the slowest animal on the farm. Mike spent a few minutes behind Snuggles, pushing his back end, trying to get him to move fast enough to keep up with the other sheep. Every now and again, the sheep would stop and look around, but when they saw us walking behind them, they'd start moving forward again.

Getting them back to their pasture after the shearing was quite easy. We opened the door, and they ran outside. They ran all the way to their pasture, and as they entered the gate, four of them leaped into the air. I wish I'd had a video camera. I could hear them squealing with joy, "We're home! We're home!"

If you'd like to read about shearing day 2008, click here. It has all the details of the shearing. My post in 2007 has before and after pictures of the sheep.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Open Farm and Field Day

We're getting ready for our first Open Farm and Field Day. We decided to schedule three of them, because everyone's schedule in summer is so crazy. We've got a lot of competition, and how can we really compete with graduation parties, weddings, and vacations to exotic places? To keep it simple, we've scheduled them on the third Saturday of July, August, and September, from noon to 5 p.m.

In July -- this Saturday -- we'll be doing a mozzarella cheese-making demonstration at 2:00 and scything at 3:00. The daylilies are also especially nice this time of year. We have more than two dozen varieties, but most of them will probably be done blooming by next month. In August and September, we'll have other demonstrations and unique things to see and do. We should have lots of fresh vegetables for sale from the garden in August, and perhaps we'll have a salsa making and canning demonstration. The big attraction in September will probably be newborn baby goats. Goat milking and soap making will also be offered on one of those days. We'll keep everyone updated through our Facebook page.

Of course, every month, visitors will be able to see the animals and the gardens and to buy our goat milk soap.

Now, we have to get ready for the sheep shearer who is coming today!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our date with a milking machine

It recently occurred to me that with such a long to-do list, I was not going to get many things done unless I had deadlines, so I set the December 31 deadline to complete my memoir manuscript (and it's going well!), and I decided that last night at 7:30, we were going to start using our milking machine. I wrote it in my Franklin-Covey Planner, and I informed my husband that we needed to spend yesterday preparing.

We bought a milking machine in December, but it was a bit intimidating, so we didn't even try it until March. The first goat tried to kick off the inflations. The second goat kept trying to lay down. The third goat stood there and gobbled up the grain, so we thought we'd finally been successful. You hear a "but" coming, don't you? When we took off the inflations, her teats were purple. I was mortified, guilt-ridden, and terrified of using the machine again. But we have to use it.

Katherine is the only person here who can milk all 13 goats currently in milk. (It was 15, but we recently sold two of them.) When Katherine is not here, I'm milking the five whose kids have been sold. The other eight goats have kids with them, so I don't have to worry about keeping up their milk supply. However, on July 29, Katherine is leaving for a biology trip to Wyoming, and several more kids will be sold by then, which means I'll have to milk eight or nine every day.

I called the milking machine manufacturer in April and explained my challenges. He gave me a few good ideas, and then we procrastinated. So, I set the date. But around 5:30 last night, we had a downpour of nearly-Biblical proportions. Within 20 minutes, water was almost up to the carriage of my car in the driveway, and our moat had a foot of water in it. Three little waterfalls poured into it from the yard. Ducks were swimming -- no, not wading or splashing -- they were swimming in front of the house. Mike went outside to mitigate flooding in the barns. I assumed our date with the milking machine would be postponed, but at 8:45, he came inside and said, "Let's milk!"

I really did not think it was a good idea to start milking at almost 9 p.m., especially since we had not eaten dinner yet. So, we agreed to wait until this morning. And we did it!

We certainly don't have all the bugs worked out yet, but we did a good enough job that we feel confident that if Mike or I are ever in a position to have to milk every goat, we could do it. We'll continue working on it and perfecting our techniques, and at some point in the future, I'll explain how to use a milking machine when I feel like I actually have some advice to share. But for now, we're limping along, learning something completely new.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I'm a compulsive doer, if that's a word. I want to do everything! (But you can forget sky diving or anything that has heights involved.) In 1983, I met a woman who was knitting a pair of mittens out of yarn that she had spun from wool, and I decided I wanted to do that someday. In college, I had a boyfriend whose family raised two pigs for their own freezer every year, (even though they had no other animals on their country estate), and I thought it would be cool to do that someday. I always admired hand-made quilts and vowed to make one myself someday. You get the idea, right? So, you can imagine that when people asked, "Do you shear your own sheep?" it really pained me to say no.

Then last year, I said to Mike, "Why don't we shear our own sheep?" I don't recall his answer, but whatever it was, it didn't slow me down as I looked on Premier's website and decided which sheep shears to buy. Mike and Margaret did all the shearing last year, and the sheep looked pretty bad, but the wool was great. And you know what they say about bad haircuts -- the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is about a week or two. Same is true for sheep . . . usually.

Margaret is no longer here, so this year, it's up to Mike and me. We were going to sheer a couple weeks ago, but it rained the night before, and playing with electric shears on wet sheep does not sound like my idea of a fun time. The rams were inside, so we decided to go ahead and sheer them. Mike did the first one, as I critiqued every cut. Then I wondered why I gave him the job when I was the one who knew how to clip goats and dogs. He'd never clipped anything in his life before last year when I delegated the shearing to him and Margaret. So, I took over on the second sheep and discovered that it is not as easy as it looks, and it is more challenging than clipping a dog or a goat. It took us about 40 minutes per ram, and they looked pretty dreadful. Sorry, I don't have pictures because the computer with PhotoShop is dieing.

Almost every day since then, one of us says that we really need to sheer the rest of the sheep. The other nods in agreement but says that we don't have time today, and that's the end of the discussion. The simple fact is that we don't want to shear the sheep. If you don't want to do something, you can always come up with plenty of excuses. When we hired a professional, we actually looked forward to shearing day. Now, we're procrastinating. So, I asked myself, is it really a big deal if we don't shear our own sheep? It's better for us and the sheep if we hire a pro to do it. Professional sheep shearers around here usually do about 24,000+ sheep per year, so it's no wonder that they zip through the fleece of a Shetland in two or three minutes.

Part of me knows it's silly to feel like a failure for not shearing our own sheep. Why do I need to be spinning, knitting, shearing, cheese making, soap making, goat milking, pig raising, quilting, and on and on? It's okay if I don't do everything, isn't it?

Friday, July 2, 2010

The next goal

I've been dreaming and setting goals for as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I set a goal of visiting all 50 states by the time I was 25. I almost made it. I was missing only four by the time I turned 25, but I didn't see that as a failure. After all, I had visited 46 states. I jumped at every opportunity to go anywhere. When I was 22, a friend needed to go home for Christmas, and the airport in his hometown was closed due to fog. No problem, I said, I'd drive him, if he paid for the gas. I was in Rhode Island at the time, and his home was in Oregon. My home was in Texas. Most of my friends thought I was crazy, and my mother was unhappy that I would miss Christmas at home, but I was focused on my goal, and I checked off about a dozen new states within a week.

I recently found a list of goals I set five years ago. Among other things, I had written down "get a master's degree" and "teach college." Done! Done! The "beautiful flower gardens" and "productive vegetable garden" will always be a work in progress. "Write memoir" was also on the list, and that has not been done. In fact, it was the only thing on the list that I have not accomplished.

As I looked at the list, I thought about my goals for the future, and then I realized that I am living my dream. Early in our marriage -- 20-something years ago -- Mike and I talked about moving to the country and building our own home. And the dream grew over the years. We decided that we wanted to have a garden and grow our own food. In the 90s, I decided I wanted goats and chickens. We talked and planned for nine years after Mike got out of the Navy, and then we finally did it eight years ago. We moved out here and started to turn those dreams into our reality.

So, what's left? The book. I need to write the book. I've been writing this blog for four and a half years, and if you think it's been an adventure, you should have been around for the first four years when we really were clueless city slickers. We'd drive goats to the University of Illinois vet hospital at the drop of a milk bucket. My husband nearly blew himself up. My son was dragged across the pasture by a cow -- and, I thought, killed. My then-9-year-old daughter told me that one of our goats was "trying to poop, but can't" when the goat was actually in labor. The water system was something from a high school science fair, which caused one flood after another in the barns. I had more than one meltdown, but who wouldn't when you're soaking wet with manure in your hair and it's 20 degrees outside? And does anyone really want to know how we were failed by four real estate agents, a lawyer, and an appraiser, and unknowingly bought a mobile home that was supposed to be gone four months after closing?

My next goal is to get all of those crazy stories into a manuscript by the end of 2010.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A sign

When we first moved out here eight years ago, it never occurred to me that we needed a sign. And it wasn't until recently that visitors began complaining that we didn't have a sign. Since my oldest daughter created a logo for us a few years ago, I figured we would just transfer that to a large piece of wood and paint it. But a sign is not urgent, and around here, a lot of things get left undone because they are not urgent. One thing I am slowly learning is that I really can't do everything, even though I want to. Although I am perfectly capable of painting a sign, I finally realized it was one of those things that was not going to happen anytime soon. So, when another goat breeder mentioned that she had her sign done by Tammie DeHart, I immediately visited her website and emailed her for more information. And now, we have a sign.


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