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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's All Fun and Games, until someone answers a survey...

A few days ago my sweet and oh-so-DIY-talented friend Kirsti included me in a survey game on her blog.  I have to post 12 interesting things about myself and then answer her 12 questions.

Brace yourself.  I'm digging deep to find 12 interesting things about me...

Interesting Thing (IT) #1:
I love humor, comedy, things that make me laugh.  I also love parodies of popular songs, piano playing and singing off key...hence, I love, LOVE Mylo!!  I have almost all of his CDs and make sure to teach the lyrics to my nieces and nephews and send them home crooning "Country bus, come to us.  There's no hurry, there's no fuss."  I'll make a pilgrimage to see Mylo just about anywhere he's playing and drag along many an unsuspecting friend to see a "rock concert".

IT #2:  I love this guy.  I love that on our honeymoon he drank coffee and ate wedding cake in the hottub every morning.  And I love how excited he got when he discovered that the cake container floated and the hot tub water gently warmed the frosting to a delectable consistency.  This is one of my favorite photos of Hubby not holding a newborn child.

IT #3:  I hate to shop.  Really, I do.  And please don't try and reform me.  It's been done.  It hasn't worked.  I bought my wedding dress off the rack.
 This was the first ring I tried on.  It fit perfectly, we bought it.  See?  I don't even spend time shopping for the "big" things!

IT#4:  I love to grow things.  Food, specifically.  I love to grow good food.  And I love to share it with people.  Local people, specifically.  For you out-of-staters, come to the farm.  We don't ship and we'd love to have you!

IT#5:  I also love flowers.  Food may feed the body, but flowers feed the soul.  These are two of my favorites:  zinnia and bells of ireland.  I'll always find room in the garden to squeeze these two beauties in...and probably a dozen other kinds.

IT#6:  I'm a canner.  Not as in round metal receptacle used for preserving food.  I'm a canner in that I am a preserver of food.  Lots of food.  Lots of different foods.  I love it.  I love teaching others to do it.

 IT#7:  I love bib overalls or "shoulder britches" as they are known in the south and now in my house.  My dad wore them every day, EVERY DAY.  Hubby wears them often and the kiddos love them.  I don't think you can work on a farm and not love shoulder britches.

IT#8:  I'm a quilter.  I quilted in my wild single days.  (Which should indicate just how wild those single days were...)  I still try and find time to sew but gone are the days when I would lock myself in my basement for an entire weekend watching basketball and quilting.  I started as a cross-stitcher in 2nd grade and have added embroidery, knitting and most recently crocheting to the list of hand-crafts I love to do!

IT#9:  I love to hang laundry out to dry.  And I have a very specific system.  I do not like my current clothesline as it doesn't fit well with my "system".  The line at THE FARM is much more conducive, due in no small part to the fact that's where the "system" was born.

IT#10:  I'm passionate about the right of farmers to keep their own seed, maintaining and growing the seed diversity in the public domain, and having access to seed.  It frightens me (as it should you) that certain multi-national corporations continue to restrict seed access and genetic diversity by buying up small seed companies and then replacing their seed stock and narrowing your choices for seeds...of all kinds.  And I'm appalled by the severe lack of funds for plant breeding and research for public use.  The vast majority of plant research money (funded by taxpayers) is for private seed stocks.  You couldn't use it if you wanted to.  Just remember, whoever controls the seeds controls the food.

IT#11:  I'm a lunatic.  And proud of it.  Our hens are in the equivalent of a giant plastic bag for the winter.
 We pasture our chickens instead of having them in a biohazard, factory confinement house.
 We strive to grow as much of our own food as possible.  We don't have TV.  And that's just the beginning!

 IT#12:  And because I talked to my mom tonight and she said Duke was playing Wake Forest.  I've been to a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  I sat second row, courtside.  They played Michigan State and won. My brother, then a grad student at Duke, got me my ticket.  It was so much better than I ever thought it would be.

 Kirsti also had some questions she wanted me to answer.  So, here they are!

  1. What's your favorite thing about blogging?
    • I like talking about food and farming and whatever else is happening, but I'm also an introvert so the blog is a great way to talk to people without having to actually talk to them. :)
  2. What's your ideal breakfast?

    • We have a family favorite.  We call it Toads, as in Toads in the Hole.  We cut a circle out of a piece of bread, crack an egg in and fry it on the griddle.  Then I make homemade hollandaise sauce with chives and fry up some bacon.  It's the 'special occasion breakfast' in our house.
     3.  Do you crave salty or sweet snacks most often?
    •          I crave chocolate.
     4.  If your family could share one crazy story about you, what do you think it'd be?
    • I took a dead sheep to basketball practice in the back of a pickup.  And I sprained my ankle sitting on the bench during a basketball game.  Those two stories live on in infamy, not just in my family but in my entire home town.  
     5.  Do you have any collections? What do you collect?
    • I'm trying desperately to pare down my house so I'm not collecting anything except boxes of stuff for the Salvation Army store!
     6.  What's your favorite place to shop online?
    • Amazon.  One stop shop is the name of this game.  Where else can I get a pressure canner, Ancho chili powder, a preschool devotional AND free shipping??
     7.  What's your favorite way to get a workout in?
    • I have three children age 3 and under.  I have a 1.75 acre garden.  That's all the workout I have time for these days.  I'd love to be a runner, I'd really love to.  But I'm so not right now.  
     8.  Do you cook, bake or both? What do you prefer?
    • I do both.  I love them both.  Too much.  See #7.
     9.  Who is one of your favorite authors?
    • Usually whoever I'm reading at the moment.  Right now it's Ann Voskamp.  She's really hitting me hard and moving me out of a comfortable place into where I should be spiritually.
     10.  A favorite movie?
    • The top of the list has always been "The Man From Snowy River".  
     11.  What's your favorite season of the year?
    • They all are really.  I love spring and all the newness that comes with it.  I love the growing and harvest of summer.  I love the slowing down and putting away of fall.  I love the rest and relaxation of winter.  
     12.  What's your favorite color to decorate with?
    • I'm pretty eclectic, I like different colors for different spaces.  But I like color.  No Captain White Walls in this house.

Top 10 Things I Learned at the MOSES conference

After spending the last 4 days or so in LaCrosse, WI at the largest organic farming conference in the world, I learned a few things...

10.  It is very helpful to have a tall assistant that you can find in a crowd of over 3300 people.  (And the ability to text "Where are you?" doesn't hurt either.)

9.  When you are bidding on and win a milk cow, complete strangers celebrate with you.  Because they understand the joy, passion and empowerment that as-of-yet-unborn heifer brings to your family farm.

8.  Not all sustainable farmers are certified organic.  And not all organic farmers are sustainable.

7.  My love affair with cheese continues.  Aged cheese, fresh cheese, cheese curds, sheep cheese, goat cheese, cow cheese.  Thank you, Wisconsin, for all the cheese!

6.  Speaking of Wisconsin, did you know every other storefront is a bar?  It is.  There were some pretty creative names out there, I guess there'd have to be with 423 of them in a 10 block radius.

5.  I ate my first kumquat.  It was sweet, bitter, juicy and refreshing...all at once!  Apparently others thought so as well because I was going to bring a couple home for Hubby and they were all gone.

4.  In ND, Hubby and I are considered complete lunatics for wanting to pasture pork.  At the MOSES conference, the seminar on Pastured Pork was packed!  People lining the walls, sitting in the aisle and in front just to hear the details.  Ahhhhhh, it feels good to be among fellow lunatics...

3.  I did a webinar from my hotel room Thursday night for Purdue University Extension on pastured poultry and then went to a "Business of Pastured Poultry" seminar and realized we need to keep better financial records.  That guy has a spreadsheet for his spreadsheets!

2.  Traveling by train is awesome.  I hadn't ridden the train since college (a geology fieldtrip to the Channeled Scablands of WA), but the experience hadn't changed.   If you have the time, go by train!

1.  I bought a LOT of farming books (like 8!).  I piled them in front of Hubby and he said, "It's almost March!  How are we going to get them all read?"  We each pulled one out of the stack and started in, reporting to each other what we're learning.  Hubby:  DirtHog - a book on pasturing pork  Me:  Fearless Farm Finances - not my favorite topic, I'd rather be reading DirtHog...but I'm taking one for the team on this one.

Friday, February 24, 2012

And along came a cow

About a month ago, Hubby and I found a milk cow about 90 miles from our home.  She was a Jersey cow that a conventional dairy no longer wanted.  We had been looking (albeit not hard) for a cow for our family.  I had wanted one two years ago, but then we found out we were pregnant with Kiddo3 and Hubby said, "You can either have a baby or a cow and the baby's on the way."  Cow plans postponed.

This Jersey dairy cow was in a convention confinement dairy.  Not the best situation for our grass based farm but we had no other options in the state.  We spoke with other farmers with grass fed-former conventional cows and they cautioned us that it took a long, long time to heal those cows from their conventional upbringing.  My most favorite farmer recommended that we find a heifer and start her out right on our grass.

We really wanted this cow (looking back, we wanted ANY cow), but she was sold out from under us.  While we were working with the farm to buy her, they sold her to someone else.  A crushing blow to our little farm.

Fast forward a month...

This week, I'm in LaCrosse, Wisconsin at the MOSES Organic Conference, the largest organic farming conference in the world.  While at this conference, there just happened to be a silent auction.  And there just happened to be a friend who likes silent auctions better than I do.  She just happened to notice that there was an auction that I would be interested in.  The item for sale?  The pick of the 2012 heifer crop from one of the best organic and sustainable 100% grassfed dairies in the nation.  These farmers are excellent farmers, wonderful stewards and generous souls.

I called Hubby and told him the details.  I told him to research both the dairy and the Ayrshire breed and we'd talk later.  We texted back and forth and decided to bid.  Hubby gave me my limit and I started getting excited.  The auction ended at 9pm.  I waited until 8:45 to see where things were.  When I got there the bidding was half of our limit...this is good news!  There were two men hanging around to bid...this is not good news.

I got my game face on.  (Not my poker face, because I don't have one.)

Each of the men put a bid in, raising it by $5 and $10.  With 10 minutes to go, I upped the bid by $15.

At 8 minutes, I was outbid by $5.  (Tension mounting.)

With some excellent coaching by my silent auction guru, Lori, I edged closer to the table with pen in hand.  I was waiting for the 1minute mark.  It was the longest 7 minutes of my life.

Then, with just 60 seconds remaining, I put pen to paper and started writing my name and bidding number as slow as I possibly could.  And then I raised the bid by $45.  They were going to have to go big or go home.

As the seconds ticked off, my heart was pounding.  Would they best my bid?

I wasn't the only person posturing for a bid, so when the staff started counting down the last 10 seconds, there was a collective holding of the breaths....


And I was the winner!  I think there might have been a victory cry of joy.  Coach Lori hugged me in celebration.

This heifer calf is just another example of how God cares for us, for something as simple as our farm.  We had really wanted that Jersey cow, we were willing to deal with the conventional issues.  But that wasn't what was best for us.  God didn't allow us to buy that cow because he had something even better for us.  The pick of the heifer crop from a farm that already practices the same management we want to use.  A heifer that we can raise as ours, she'll be a member of our family.  We have until May to prepare for her arrival.  And we have two years to prepare to milk our own cow.  And a couple (Dave and Florence) who are so excited to help another farm family get started.  And, this cow is within easy driving distance in Minnesota!!  We've been given more than we could have even thought to ask for.  And we are so thankful...

Our new baby isn't even born yet.  Having waited for precious babies to be born three times myself recently, I have the same feeling of anticipation and excitement.  Can you tell??

There'll be many more posts to come on our new cow, of that you can be certain.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being Gone

I'm leaving today.  On a work trip.  Again.

I'm excited to go with my colleagues.   I know I'll meet lots of great people and learn lots of amazing things.  But I don't like to leave.

But I can leave thanks to this man right here:
He's dad, cook, laundry guy, reader of cowboy stories (over and over and over), tickler, snuggler, diaper changer, tucker-inner, bath giver, and he does it all for days on end when I have to be gone.  
I love this man! (and not just because he wears the stuff I knit for him.)

However, I don't like to miss moments like these:

Kiddo1 decided that this day she would nap in the soft toys bin with her sleeping bag.
And she did.

A small peeking boy wearing a small smile and his mom's hat.  

My baby doing new things every single day.

The daily hunt for snakes in our couch.  (Rest assured there are no real snakes.  They tuck shoelaces in there and then get their flashlights to find the "snakes".)

I know they will help with their chores.

I know they will play and play and play some more.

I know this little boy will wear this hat all day every day, unless he's in bed or the bathtub.

I know this girl will try to do everything her big brother and sister do, including their folder games.

And just maybe, when I return, we'll have a toilet trained bunny...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Homemade Baking Mix

People often ask me, because I make most of our food from scratch, if I have any convenience foods.  You bet it do!  Here's one of my staples, Homemade Baking Mix.  Due to my thrifty nature, I just can't spend $5 or more for a box of mix that I can make for less than a dollar.  And I can pronounce everything in my mix!  We use this for pancakes, waffles, biscuits and muffins.

Here's the recipe:
8 cups flour (I use 4 white and 4 whole wheat)
2T baking powder
1T salt
1t baking soda
2t cream of tartar
2 cups dry non-fat milk
2 cups shortening (or other solid fat, I use coconut)

I started with 4 cups of white flour.

Added 4 cups of whole wheat flour.  (I've never seen baking mix in the store with whole wheat.  Yet another plus for making your own!)

Then the baking powder.  Make sure you use fresh baking powder.  Anything over about 9 months old has significantly lost its strength.

And then the salt, in dramatic lighting.  The dramatic lighting really adds to the whole recipe.

Find one last jar of cream of tartar that escaped the playdough making marathon.
 (And then forget to take a picture of the soda.  That really helps as well.)

And the dry milk.  

It's just that easy, folks!

Hook up the old KitchenAid with paddle attachment and set it to stir.  One day Hubby asked, "Didn't WE get that mixer as a wedding present from your folks?  What have I gotten out of that deal?"  I just looked at him, as he stood there eating an oatmeal cookie.  Then he got it.

As the dry ingredients are mixing, you'll add 1/2 cupfuls (4 of them) of your shortening.  We use organic coconut.

If you would add the shortening all at once, it would fly up and throw the dry ingredients out of the bowl.  Take it easy and do it a little at a time.

 When it's done, it will be mealy in texture, just like the store bought stuff...only better!  Because you made it yourself.

Then get the same industrious three year old to scoop it out of the bowl and into an airtight container for storage.  It will keep for months.  How many?  I don't know, we use it in less than one so I can't say how long it will go.

Then clean up after said industrious and helpful three year old.

See that proud smile!  It melts a mama's heart.

That morning we made waffles.  I fried up some eggs over easy and sandwiched them between the waffles, just like my mom eats it.  Drizzle some syrup over the top....YUMM!!

Biscuits:  2 cups mix, 1/2 cup water.  Bake at 450 degrees for 8-10min.  (I've added in green onions, garlic, shredded cheese, etc. for some very tasty biscuits!)
Muffins:  2 cups mix, 2T sugar, 1 beaten egg, 2/3 cup milk.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  (I've also mixed in the above items for savory muffins or a cup of fruit for sweet muffins.)
Pancakes:  2 cups mix, 1 1/3 cups milk, 1 beaten egg.  
Waffles:  2 cups mix, 1 beaten egg, 2T oil, 1 1/3 cups milk.

This baking mix is an excellent way to start your homemade life!

Homemade Egg Noodles

I come from a long line of Germans from Russia cooks.  And so does Hubby.  And one thing both of our families have in our tree is homemade noodles.  I remember watching my grandma and my great aunt make noodles.  And have many, MANY memories of making noodles in our house as a kid.  If there's one thing us Germans from Russia like to eat...it's boiled dough.

Here's how easy it is to make homemade noodles:

First, a pasta machine.  Not absolutely necessary, but oh-so-nice to have.  My great aunt used to roll the dough with her rolling pin and cut them with a very sharp knife.  My rolling pin and I have personality conflicts.  He doesn't want to roll and I don't want to force him.  There, I've said it.  Admitting there's a problem is the first step to a new rolling pin.

Back in my wild single days, I went to a lot of auctions.  Not bachelor auctions (which might explain why I was single until I was 28), but estate and household auctions.  Always one for a bargain, I stocked my kitchen and home with lots of auction items.  My pasta machine is Italian, even the directions are in Italian!  It also comes with ravioli attachment (not pictured).  Not even my mom has the  ravioli attachment.  Guess how much I paid for it??
 A dollar.  Yup, one whole dollar.

The pasta recipe is simple:  flour and eggs (salt is optional).  The ratio is 2 eggs for every cup of flour.  Now that is approximate.  Some days you'll have to add a little flour, others it's a bit much.  It depends on the humidity, the size of the eggs, how careful you are about measuring.  (I'll let you guess which one is my problem.)

I'm making a big batch so I'm using 6 cups of flour.  Organic wheat flour, to be exact.

I'm going to start with six eggs and add a couple every so often. 

Just look at those farm fresh beauties!

Kiddo1 has mastered the art of egg cracking so she helped me crack eggs.  Those are her little hands on the left.

Six golden yolks.  I feel kind of bad showing you those yolks because when the hens are out on pasture, they are orange.  These are about as pale as we get.  Still much darker than store eggs, but not the orange color we've come to expect.

I mix my noodle dough in my KitchenAid Mixer.  My mom mixes hers on the counter.  To do the counter method:  pile your flour, make a well in the center, crack the eggs into the well and gently mix them (little by little) into the flour and then knead with your hands until all the flour is incorporated.

Both ways perfectly acceptable.  I tend to do large batches (this is triple what my mom does) so the mixer really helps.  I use the dough hook on the stir setting.

While it's going with the first six eggs, I add two tsp of salt (if I remember, hence the optional part).

The first six eggs have been incorporated and now I'll had two more.

I ended up added another four eggs after that for an even dozen eggs into this batch.  I watch that last egg or two pretty carefully, you don't always need it.  Another batch I did later only used 11 eggs.  It really depends.

The dough should stay together, but not be wet or crumbly.  It will be very dense.  Remember, it's just eggs and flour.

A lot of recipes out there call for the addition of water.  That is an absolute NO in our family.  We don't add water because we are going to dry these noodles.  Why would we add water just to dry it out again?  If you need more liquid, add another egg.

Now we're on to the fun part!  Set up your noodle machine and a flour station.

Take a bit of dough, the size of a golfball.  NO larger, you'll see why in a minute or so.  (I'd like to point out my grandmother's flour sifter, I love it.)

Roll the ball in the flour for a light coating.  You want to knead that ball and work it a bit.

The settings on the pasta machine are numbered, 1 being the thickest setting.  We'll start there.

Lots of space in there!  

While cranking the handle, push your dough ball through the rollers.

Out comes a flattened ball of dough.  I know you're shocked.

Sometimes they come out looking like this.  This is NOT what you want.

Making pasta is very forgiving and you just crumple it up and start over.

Like this.

And it should look like this. 

Then get an industrious and oh-so-helpful three year old to turn the crank while you push in dough balls and you've got yourself the makings of a production line!

Dust the dough with a bit of flour now and then.  We don't want to cake it on, but we want to keep the dough dry to the touch.  Wet dough stuck in a pasta machine is simply awful.

Dial it up to level 2.

Still plenty of room there.  But we'll get smaller as the process moves on.  Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was their pasta on the first pass.

Three year old production supervisor.  She scolded me for going too fast.  (I think she's taking over for my mom.  She always asked where the fire was...)

All of our pasta after level 2.

And then I get wild and crazy and skip level 3 all together!!  We're going straight to level 4.

As you can see after levels 4 and then 5, we've made some changes in that pasta!  Why do we pass it through so many times?  We're orienting the molecules into thin flat sheets.  If we just went from 1 to 5, the dough would tear.  We need to nudge and gently mold the dough into shape.  Notice the long lengths of dough?  And that's just from a golfball sized piece!  If you go any bigger, you'll end up with sox foot piece of noodle and that's bit much.  Start small!

The first couple of batches I did, I cut the noodles after level 5.  Then I talked to my mom who said, "I used to do that and then I went to 6.  It makes a beautiful noodle!"  Never being one to shun the wisdom of a lifelong noodle maker, I took her advice and my next two batches were 6.  She was SOOO right, exquisite noodles!  Go to 6, you won't regret it.

Now we're ready to cut some noodles.  My machine has the fettucini and spaghetti settings.  I prefer the wider noodles and pretty much always make them unless I get a special request.

Pretty simple.  Dough goes in, noodles come out, your arm goes round and round.

After they are cut, you want to either use them immediately or dry them.  I had this great idea to use a new clothes drying rack for drying my noodles.  In theory, the idea was awesome!  In reality, it was terrible.  First, it takes FOREVER to hang the noodles.  Second, when the noodles dry (and it WAS quickly), they dry slightly around the dowel and therefore you can't take them off without breaking them at the center.  Urrrrgh.  But now I know!

So, how do we dry them?  Get a clean sheet from your linen closet and spread it on your bed.  Lay the noodles out loosely so that they can dry.  In other words, no clumps.  When they are just about dry, fluff them with your hands and change their position, every so gently, so that any damp spots have time to dry completely.

 How do you know they are dry?  When they feel dry and are completely stiff.

If you apply even a little pressure, they break.  These are very delicate!  It doesn't take long.  I finished my last batch at noon today and they were dry by 7pm.  I package my noodles in gallon bags and store them in the freezer.  Because they are made with just eggs and flour and no preservatives and additives, they may mold in your kitchen cupboard.  The freezer is an excellent way to store them safely.

And then you can make chicken noodle soup or other yummy dishes like Ree Drummond's Homemade Chicken and Noodles.

I gave homemade noodles as Christmas gifts when I was teaching.  One woman came up and gave me a big hug after Christmas break.  (She wasn't the hugging type.)  She said she used my noodles to make chicken soup and her husband was so impressed.  Really, really impressed.

So, if it can help her marriage...what can homemade noodles do for you??