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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thoughts and apologies...

So I had all these great intentions of blogging more often. The blogs I read are updated at least weekly and hold my attention because I know what's happening. Sadly, my best intentions of blogging often have gone astray! Not that I don't think about it, I think about it a LOT! "I should blog about this" is a common thought in my mind.

Here are some other thoughts I've had recently:

1. I think mothers with toddlers should be exempt from ANY kind of housecleaning code. Particularly when your son feeds himself sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and then you spend days finding all the things he touched on his way to get clean in the tub.

2. Cats. Why can't they stick around our farm? We have terrible luck with cats. My poor daughter got a kitten from a neighbor and promptly named it "KittyBoy" (and it was, I checked). She spent the day bossing it around and it died two days later! To her credit, she accepts death with a "KittyBoy all gone" and a shrug of her shoulders.

3. My daughter is a copy-cat of her mother. She has a kitten at Grandma's house named "Socks" that only comes inside when she's there (at her insistence) and is wrapped in blankets and read to. Grandma and Grandpa didn't know if it was a boy or a girl so when I was allowed to hold "it", I discreetly turned it upside-down and took a look. I turned to Grandma and said, "Boy" and gave it back to Jana. A while later she was walking around with Socks and flipped him upside-down and said, "Boy!"...twice!

4. Will people appreciate my homemade Christmas gifts? I love homemade gifts, but maybe others don't...I guess we'll see.

I have a super easy, super good cookie recipe to blog on later.
Until then, I think I'll go sample one...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sauerkraut, aka How I love fermented cabbage

[I'd like to dedicate this post to my friend, Laurie, who steadfastly refuses to eat sauerkraut of any kind. Even the homemade stuff. Laurie, here's what you're missing...]

At the end of the gardening season there is always, ALWAYS some reject cabbage out there. Either one you forgot about and it got huge and split or a bunch of small heads that aren't enough for much or an animal of some sort was snacking. However you come across your misfit heads, well, that's your business...

Traditionally, sauerkraut was made in large crocks with weights. You'd have to babysit it and check for scum and the whole batch could be ruined by a tiny little bit of cabbage poking out of the brine. I don't have that kind of time and thankfully, neither did my grandma. This is the way she always made sauerkraut...

Here are my split and tiny heads. At first glance, ick.

Peel off the outer layers, the darker green ones, until you get to the firm, light colored leaves.

Slice that bad boy in half with a giant knife. The one you are afraid to use and only bring out for watermelon and cabbage.

The cut it into quarters. Family members may want to remove themselves for safety at this point. The chopping, oh the chopping!!

Slice off the nasty core part on each quarter. Feed to your pigs or chickens or put in your compost pail.

My grandmother hand shredded all of her cabbage on a mandolin slicer. I have moved into the 21st century and use my food processor. I use the slice blade rather than the shred. I find that the shred just makes mush out of my cabbage and you want pieces of cabbage, not mush.

See? Isn't that lovely?? At this point you can set some aside for a late season coleslaw...

Or, you can persuade your manly husband to use his muscles to pack the cabbage in wide-mouth jars!!

You really want to pack those jars tight because the fermentation is an anaerobic process. Which means you don't want a lot of air in your jars.

Then add 2 tsp of non-iodized salt to each quart. Do NOT use iodized salt as it will inhibit the bacteria that make the sauerkraut. The good, healthy kind that help digestion and all that good stuff!!

Add your canning funnel. This was my grandmother's funnel. It's a little bent up, but I wouldn't can without it!

Get some boiling water. It's a good idea to start this when you start shredding the cabbage. Add the boiling water to the jar. You're going to have to wait a bit to let the water percolate down to the bottom. I usually run two jars at once and poke down with the handle of a wooden spoon to help the saturation process.

When you have filled the jars within 1/4 inch of the top with boiling water, get a ring and a lid.

Wipe the rim clean of stray cabbage bits.

And then tighten that lid right up. You don't need your manly, muscular husband to do this part. In fact, if he does, he'll have to unscrew the rings anytime you want to make sauerkraut. Trust me, husbands don't like phone calls that say "Can you hurry home to open this sauerkraut?" Just tighten it yourself....

Now, set the jars on a shelf and leave for a few weeks. They are fermented and ready to eat when the cabbage has changed color from the greenish-white to the tannish-white.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How far is too far?

One week from today I take my local foods show on the road. I love to talk about local food, local food systems and the need for sustainability in our food network.

Did you know that if trucks couldn't get into North Dakota, most grocery stores would only have enough food for three days?

I'll be on my soapbox on Saturday at the Women's Showcase in Fargo. As my colleague and I were discussing our talk, we knew we didn't want to pull any punches. But at the same time..."How far is too far?" Should we show them the video of chicken nugget production? Should we talk about high fructose corn syrup?

I hate the fact that the USDA and their cohorts have painted the local foods picture as "cute". "Come, everybody, let's buy a tomato at the farmers market this week!" Local food sustainability isn't cute, it's vital. But it's a wonder of modern science that we can buy tomatoes in the grocery store in January! Right? WRONG. On so many levels.

So I'm torn, what do I say? How much do I say? And, most importantly, will they listen before it's too late?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A New Form of Slavery?

A couple of weeks ago, I drove into a yard to make a delivery. One of our regular customers was out of town and wanted to share that week's produce with her neighbor. As I drove in my jaw dropped at all the new farm equipment, new machinery, new buildings and new house. I was staring at roughly millions of dollars. Now, this neighbor is younger than my husband. I'm willing to bet every bit of it was financed.

I can almost guarantee that I would choke if I had to look at that much debt every single day of my life. How is a farmer supposed to make a living, and I'll even add a life, when they start out in debt to the tune of millions of dollars? Lending institutions are making loans based on recent production trends and prices. Which, history will substantiate, are the best we've had for quite some time. What happens when we get a drought? What happens if the prices drop? What do those farmers do then? Will the government bail them out? Is there enough price support and insurance built into today's production models that the farmers are insulated?

Could the farmer leave or change production models? I don't think so. Agri-business is making money, lots of money, based on conventional production models. Chemical agriculture at its finest. But the farmers are basically indentured to those models because of the debt load they carry. I can tell you from experience that if a farmer went in to his (or her) lender and said, "I'd like to plant 100 acres of organic raspberries. Will you back me?" The answer, after the laughter had died down, would be no. A farmer who wants to break free of the bondage has a long and difficult road to climb. How can agri-business keep the farmers buying from them? Make it near impossible to do anything else.

I just don't know the answer. I don't know if they know. All I know is it would scare the living daylights out of me to have signed my name.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do you read?

One of the truly great ideas I've had in the past month that I've been working to further sustainable agriculture (in an official capacity) has been the idea of a Sustainable Library. Where we would have all the books/DVDs/etc. from the world of sustainable living and agriculture and lend them to people in a manner similar to the ND State Library. You could check them out for a month and only have to pay the return postage.

Brilliant, right??

Someone would surely give me a $10,000 grant to do this, right??

Then a co-worker mentioned this tiny fact to me. People don't read anymore. Really, they don't read. 50% of Americans will never read another book after they leave school.

This shocks me. Me, who is a voracious reader. Me, who would read the back of shampoo and shaving cream bottles in the bathroom, just for something to read. Me, who has at least 2 books going at all times. Me, who has 500+ volumes in her home and those are just my favorites. Me, who checks out 5+ books a week (during the winter) at the library and reads them all.

I can't believe this. Why wouldn't people want to read? Why wouldn't you want to learn something? Go somewhere? Become someone? Have we become so dependent on TV and the internet that we cannot use our imaginations anymore? Have we lost the ability to imagine?

We don't have TV in our home. It's been over three years since I saw any television on a regular basis. I've never seen Glee or The Office. I certainly don't watch the news. And you know what? I think I'm much better off then when I planned my week around Grey's Anatomy, ER, House and The Closer. Come November, we'll renew our subscription to Netflix and watch a movie or documentary every week or so. But that's the extent of our TV entertainment. I can live without TV.

Books, I can't live without.

Am I the only one?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

You CAN go home again.

Last night the hubby, kiddos and I went to a wedding in my hometown. Not the town that I listed as my address for 18 years, but the one where I went to 13 years of school and 22 years of church. My longest-known friend was getting married. I've known Travis for all but 10 months of my almost 34 years. Our parents have been best friends forever and we grew up together. I've literally known him longer than my own sister!

There are pictures of the three of us (me, Travis and Coley) in the bathtub together as little tykes. (I would have included some of them, but they are buried in my parents basement somewhere.) Then my brother and his sister joined the group, and that made five. We all went to the same church, sang in the same programs, were confirmed together, lighted candles together. Then we went away to college...together, all at the same school. Except my brother, the traitor, who went to a private school to play football and ended up cheerleading (another tale, another time).

So this is a long way of saying that Travis and I go way back, farther back than anyone else on this planet. He's my other brother. Whenever we see each other, which isn't as often as it should be now that we've gone and grown up, it's a big hug or two and lots of laughter. It was a joy to see him get married to a wonderful gal, I can't wait to get to know her better!

But along with the fun of a lifelong friend's wedding comes other joys. The joy of seeing your church family again. I only have one uncle, total, that's it. And he lives in Ohio so we never saw them. So my church family is literally my family. They've held together and held on to one another. They love and support you like nothing you've ever felt. We walked in late to the ceremony and one of the pillars-of-the-church was sitting just inside the door. He leapt up, threw his arms around me and said, "I'm so glad you could come." These same people prayed and loved for our family the first time Dad had cancer. I was sixteen. Now he's fighting it again and they are back at it. Loving and praying for my parents from afar. These people are my real aunts and uncles and cousins. They're closer than family.

The only thing missing last night was my beloved Eleanor. My youth leader growing up. It's been a year and half since she died and I still miss her. I miss getting cards from her with funny sayings just because she was thinking of me. I looked around the church and didn't see her little, silver-haired body or hear her laugh...and I missed her desperately. I think I always will. I keep the card she sent me two weeks before she died and the pictures she included of me and her in high school. She could always talk me into doing stuff with her, like dressing up as clowns for a Turtle Days Parade! I hate clowns and I don't like Turtle Days. But I loved Eleanor, so I did it. We all did.

It was so wonderful to laugh and hug and share and celebrate. You can go home again...I did it just last night.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The first egg!!!

If you are a fan of our farm on FaceBook, you know that this egg recall has got my blood boiling. And rather than continue my government-food-safety rant here, I'll share the good news!

Our pullets (girl chickens) have heard about this egg recall and wanted to do their part in providing fresh, healthy and SAFE eggs for our customers.

John found our first egg Sunday morning! And I cooked it for him for breakfast, because he is the ChickenMan.

Pullet eggs are always small and will get bigger in a little while.

How small are they?
That's a pancake.

John looked at it and said, "I'll have 6, please."

Here's to the chickens...you go girls!

Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn

It's an obsession really.

Particularly for my daughter and her father plays right into it.

Good grief!

Wheat Harvest

On Friday, John harvested our wheat.

Harvest is always a fun, exciting and stressful time. So we waited until after naptime to head out and watch Daddy bring in the harvest.

Jana had trouble walking in the stubble and felt much safer in Daddy's arms.

The combine looks a lot bigger when you get up close!

It's not so scary when you're with Daddy.

Dad makes a spot for Jana to ride in the cab. (Mom would have ridden on the engine hood, but we didn't tell Jana that. She did ride there as a wee fetus three years ago.)

Jana is ready to climb aboard!

Jana in her perch.

Dad checking things over one more time.

Waving goodbye as they head off down the field!

Poor Henry had to sit and watch with Mom.

He was pretty despondent about the whole thing.

But it didn't last long...He seems to have recovered nicely!

CSA - Week Nine

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better...

Summer Squash, Zucchini, Red Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Sweet Corn, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Beets, Onion

My kids on garden duty

Many people have asked how we manage the garden with a 2 and a 1 year old. Here's one way:

They love to ride in the wagon and Jana is really good at making sure both she and Henry are sitting and hanging on before she gives Mom the OK to start driving.

And for their good behavior, the kids get to eat the garden produce...

Jana loves sweet corn, preferably raw with corn juice dribbling down her chin.

Henry loves to eat potatoes, preferably raw with dirt on his chin!

CSA - Week Eight

Beets, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Sweet Corn, Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Basil, Parsley, Tomatoes, Lettuce

CSA - Week Seven

This one's even better!

Chives, Basil, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Beets, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Cabbage, Potatoes, Tomatoes

CSA - Week Six

Great Googali-Moogali! I haven't blogged in a month! I don't think that has ever happened.

What has been my problem?

Time, time has been my problem. And small children. And a garden the size of footballs fields. And chicken butchering. Well, the list goes on.

There will be a few posts today to "catch-up". Here's the first one...

Cilantro, Basil, Broccoli, Beets, Kohlrabi, Swiss Chard, Kale, Cabbage, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Potatoes, Lettuce and Tomatoes

Thursday, July 29, 2010

CSA - Week Five

The gardens have exploded in the last week and we are reaping the bounty!

Top row: Chives, Parsley, Broccoli (some bags got cucumbers instead), Cabbage, Mixed Greens, Kohlrabi
Bottom row: Beets, Summer Squash, Zucchini, Onion, Potatoes

CSA - Week Four

Here's the box contents (a week late, but here nonetheless):

Top row: Turnips, Mixed Greens, Shell Peas, Onion
Bottom row: Snow Peas, Basil, Cilantro, Beets

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oops! and You'll Never Guess Who!

There are a couple of blogs I read on a regular basis, a couple of them dailys and others weeklies. One of my favorites, "Ask Jackie" on Backwoods Home, hasn't posted yet this week and I was getting anxious. I said as much to John when he asked, "When's the last time you posted?" Ummm, let me check...

YIKES! I didn't even post last week's box photos!

Boy, am I sorry about that. They'll be coming up shortly...

But I really wanted to share a great little story with you. A story about how small our world really is.

Last week after CSA deliveries, John and I went on an excursion with our beloved small group Bible study people. We love these ladies and gents like a hippo loves pond scum! We used to meet weekly with them to study and share in the Word, but with two small children who have an early bedtime...well, it just wasn't working this year. Thankfully, they did not kick us out but rather just the opposite...They invite us to all the fun stuff!

This time it was a pontoon ride on a beautiful lake hosted by a couple from their church (the church we don't go to but wish we did, very long story and there is an entry limit on these things) that we had never met. The host couple introduced themselves with a handshake and "Hi, we're Chip and Sue!" "Nice to meet you, we're John and Annie."

The pontoon ride proceeded with much food and merriment, our small group is known for two things: copious amounts of food and loving to laugh. I'll just highlight the food because it's what I do:
Blackberry Bruschetta - oh...my...goodness!
Cheese & Crackers - I was sitting nearest the cheese and crackers and inhaled them...I blame the baby in my womb for this.
Shrimp Cocktail - we are a high class bunch, but then we came down to earth as we tossed the shells overboard
Deviled Eggs - scrumptious!
Chippers from Widman's Candy - a pregnant lady's dream come true, thankfully we had to pass the box around or I would have ate the whole thing. I had to substitute the cheese and crackers.
Grapes - a light palate cleanser that made us all feel like we were "healthy"

We heard all the stories of the lake, got the history of the cabins and campsites and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful views and great water. Ahhhh, what a relaxing evening.

But wait! It got better!!

We didn't just end with food on the pontoon. Oh no! We came back to shore, waddled off the boat and proceeded to throw down a potluck around the campfire. Brats, baked potatoes, salads, salsa dip, a disappointing chicken dip made by yours truly (it overcooked in the crockpot) and a 50 year old brownie recipe!

As we were eating yet again, Sue says to me, "You look so familiar, did you grow up around here?" "Nope, tiny little town north of Bismarck called Mercer." And she says, "Oh my goodness, I used to show cattle with you at the McLean County Fair!"

OK, you've got to go way back at least 15 years to have that kind of information. Then I put it all together, Sue...hmmmm, Sue....Suzie?? and then it came to me! I knew exactly who she was and it was a blast from the past.

This gal was awesome, I mean AWESOME, in everything she did. She was a couple of years older than me, and boy did I look up to her. She had a passle of brothers and sisters, the majority of them younger, and she mothered them all. It was so great to connect with her and share memories of the "old" days. When I told my sister and brother about it, they both yelled, "NO WAY!!!"

So here's to Sue, a big part of my youth and hopefully (after exchanging email addresses) a part of the future as well!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CSA - Week Three

Here's the contents of this week's box:

Onions, Mixed Greens (kale, swiss chard, beet greens), Basil, Parsley, Turnips with greens, Snow Peas, Beets

In case you need help identifying your herbs: Basil on the left and Flat Leaf Italian Parsley on the right

And then a fun picture of Kiddo1 wearing her dad's flannel shirt...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

OGT, Yeah you know me!

WARNING: This recipe is dangerous. Dangerous to your arteries, your tastebuds and your relationship. If you have never made a recipe of mine, you must make this one. That's not a threat, that's a fact.

The first time I made this dish, I delivered my husband's plate and then went back to retrieve his beverage. When I returned, he said, "We're going to call this OGT!"

"O--G--T???" I asked.

"Yup, Olive Garden Topper!" And then he ate his body weight in pasta.

Here's what we need for the plate of heaven:
Mushrooms, Milk/Cream/Half&Half, Bacon, tube shaped pasta, Butter, Parmesan Cheese and Hot Sauce...That's it!

Start your water boiling for the pasta.

Bacon, to dice or not to dice. As a rule, I'm not a before-cooking-bacon-dicer. I prefer to cook the strips whole and then chop them up. But in this case, I made an exception. First, because my sister might read this recipe and she HAS TO do it as the recipe says. Second, because this was thick-sliced bacon, it would stay together when I chopped it up.

Diced bacon in pan, cook over medium heat to crisp, but not burnt.

Remember to salt your water as it flavors the pasta. A couple of teaspoons or a tablespoon is fine.

You want to use a tube-shape pasta for this recipe as it allows the sauce to take refuge in the cavity. But, if in a pinch, any pasta will do.

Mushrooms!! Hello fungus, how I've missed you! I tend to go on fungus streaks, where I'll put mushrooms in everything. Then the hubby has to talk me down from the ledge and say "Really, I think we've had enough mushrooms for a while." I don't rinse these as the remaining water will spatter in the bacon grease. Just brush off any adhering dirt.

Give 'em a rough chop. I like to see my mushrooms in the pasta.

Scamper on out to your herb garden and grab some fresh parsley. What? You don't have fresh parsley? Well, I suppose dried will do. Barely, but it will do.

When the bacon is almost done, remove it with a slotted spoon to drain on some paper towels. The bacon will continue to cook even after you remove it from the pan, so err on the side of not-quite-done.

Carefully add the mushrooms to the bacon grease, we don't want any spatter burns.

Drain your pasta, give it a good toss or two to get out all the water hiding in the tubes.

Measure out your cream/half&half. Add it to the pasta pot.

The mushrooms continue to sizzle...don't they look wonderful!

Add the butter. If you use margarine, you'll regret it, I promise.

Add the garlic. I had fresh green garlic from the garden!

It hasn't formed full cloves yet so you can cut it like an onion! Plus, use the green part!

Here's my favorite kitchen gadget...the kitchen shears! I use it all the time in place of a chopping knife and cutting board.

Flat leaf Italian Parsley. I like it better than that pompous curly stuff.

Add the hotsauce. Now, with such a small amount, you may be tempted to forego the hotsauce. And that would be the "Fatal Mistake" (to quote an NDSU professor).

Add the noodles back in to the pot.

Retrieve your bacon from the hiding place. Hiding place? Yes, the hubby and Kiddo1 are bacon fiends. Kiddo1 calls it "Baca" and cries for it at night.

Ahhhh, Parm, I love you!

Add the mushrooms.

Then give the pasta a good toss, working that delicious sauce into noodles.

Grab your green onion and the kitchen shears and snip, snip, snip your way into pasta bliss. We add the green onion at the very end so that it doesn't cook, just adds the onion flavor.

Here's the steamy money shot...pun intended!

Now, if that doesn't just make your heart pound, your mouth water, and your knees weak, I don't know what will.

And as the nearest Olive Garden is 90 miles away...we'll be dining on this again.

Thank you Simple & Delicious for this recipe:
2-1/2 cups uncooked mostaccioli
8 bacon strips, diced
1 jar (4-1/2 ounces) whole mushrooms, drained
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
1/3 cup butter, cubed
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon minced garlic
6 to 8 drops hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt, optional
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup sliced green onions
Cook mostaccioli according to package directions.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove to paper towels to drain. Brown mushrooms in drippings; remove to paper towels. Drain drippings from pan.
Add the cream, butter, parsley, garlic, pepper sauce and salt if desired to the skillet; cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted. Drain mostaccioli; add to cream mixture. Stir in the bacon, mushrooms and cheese; heat through. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with green onions. Yield: 4 servings.