Archive for Homesteading

The Secret to Storing Soulful Tomatoes

Off season, store bought toms scare me!

Say goodbye to bland tomato sauce and store bought zombie toms…Tomatoes that have no soul.  Now you can have year round tomato taste with maximum nutrition with minimal space.  

Tomato Powder: the super space-saving, nutrient dense method of preserving the tide of tomato abundance

 

Garden Tomatoes

I didn’t edit this photo at all…you just can’t capture the brightness of homegrown tomatoes!

I grow lots of tomatoes.  Why? Because there is nothing like biting into a garden fresh, vine ripened tomato.  You can’t buy that taste in any store. Okay that is part of it. The other reason? They are easy to grow.  I have so many failed garden attempts withering in my garden beds, that I cover my blunders with gnarly unstoppable vines of tomatoes. If you think I am exaggerating, ask me how many I planted this last year. Go ahead, ask……28.  Yes, twenty-eight plants for a family of six.  Considering each plant yields roughly one bzillion toms, that left me with a few leftover to store.

I used to can tomatoes. They are perhaps the easiest fruit to can and can be used in so many ways; you can’t go wrong with a shelf of home canned tomatoes. Then I embarked on my raw food adventure.  Though I am not close to a 100% raw foodist, it did wake me up to the nutrient value of raw foods. Suddenly I found myself unable to plunge my beautiful, fresh lovelies into boiling water.  Processing, even on a home level, seemed so tragic.  What’s a raw loving girl to do in a crimson tide of toms?  After my first growing season on our “farm” I froze a lot of tomato puree.  But let’s face it, how often do I plan a meal far enough in advance to thaw out a tub of tomato goop? Not often. Not to mention I only have a finite amount of freezer space.

You know what they say about necessity mothering invention? Well, I “invented” something amazing.  Out of desperation, I began stuffing tomatoes into my dehydrator.  Then to save space, I began powdering them in my blender.  Turns out, almost a bushel of tomatoes will fit in one mason jar!  I did it! I found the space saver secret to tomato storage!  Evil laughter filled my kitchen.  And what a bonus it was not to be stuck in a hot, steamy kitchen!  But….what to do with powdered tomatoes?

tompowderThat is the beautiful genius of it all…it is delicious!  Tomato powder can go in pretty much everything short of a cheesecake.  Need more specifics?

 

  • Tomato paste
  • Ketchup
  • Tomato sauce
  • Enchilada Sauce
  • Chili

 

Use it as a thickener. (I especially like this feature when making my raw marinara!)

Create illusions: a spoonful of tom powder in canned soup or sauce just brightens it up, making it taste fresher and, dare I say it, homemade!  (I am all for easy dishes that get you homemade credit!!)

Summer-ize: during the sad winter season when tomatoes only come in pale pink frankenfruit varieties at the grocery store, use this powder to pack a REAL punch of summer into whatever you are serving. For a tasty twist of irony, sprinkle it on your winter-shipped-pathetic-store-bought-frankenmaters!

As for inventing it, I totally did.  The people who market it in stores on the Internet surely gleaned it from my consciousness magically, you know, before I found it in there myself.  Yes, you can buy it.  But I figure I saved myself the cost of a new minivan by making it myself.

Note: it does clump a bit.  You could add cornstarch or something like that to declump, but I would rather use a fork to break it up than defile my lovelies with additives.  Shaking and patting the jar is usually enough to do the job. If you do live somewhere with humidity, try storing with a little pouch of dry rice.  Rice is an excellent natural moisture absorber!

Store in a cool, dry place.  You know, the usual food storage advice.  How long you ask? Well, I had one pint jar leftover from my first season and, one full year later, it still tasted bright and tommy.   I am sure you could add an oxygen absorber to extend its shelf life, but really it is so versatile, you will rotate through it quickly.

 Did I mention it is easy?

dry tomsWash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then, simply slice thin and arrange in your dehydrator. If you have a temperature control feature, keep the heat low, under 118 degrees to preserve the enzymes and “raw” quality.  Dry overnight or until crisp.  Then simply blend in your food processor or high powered blender until you have a fine powder.  Fill your jars and there you go!

 

blend tomsEXPRESS method:

After my first 5 million tomatoes, I was so sick of slicing I moved to this method…puree.  Wash and de-core your tomatoes.  Then toss into your high powered blender and puree.  Pour on teflex sheets (or whatever mats you use to make fruit leathers in your dehydrator).   Dry until brittle…dryer than fruit leather but not burned!  Then break off pieces and powder.

tomatoe powder jarstomatoe powder

 

That is all there is to it!

Go for Gojis: growing super berries

What is a better bargain, super berries at $26 a pound, or $2.56 plus shipping for unlimited, perpetual super berries? I’m not good at math, but I will opt for the second.

Even worse than my math skills are my gardening skills. My thumb is only the palest shade of green around the edges…I am working on it. But there is one place where my love of food, my obsession with nutrition, and my adoration of bargain shopping collide: in the garden.  Alas, I have thrown in my spade and started shoveling more than just a good story now and then. (Which reminds me, have you read Charity’s “other” blog: Spade & Spatula? Green thumb and gorgeous? Oh yeah, and published. It’s almost too much! xo)

I really love my gojis, wanna shake my tree…

My proudest venture of late is not my forlorn looking cucumbers and straggly tomato vines. Not even my overblown broccoli and lone but voluptuous watermelon. No, those are too ordinary for accolade. My crowning achievement this year is much more exotic. It hails from the fertile crags and valleys of the Himalayas. The not-at-all-humble goji berry.

Goji Greatness

If you haven’t encountered them personally, you have surely heard of the super berries. They reside in a myriad of health drinks, supplements, elixirs, remedies, weight loss concoctions, and even shampoos. They are touted as the world’s most nutritious food. David Wolfe, my raw food crush, rates them as the #1 superfood on the planet (a close second–the sensuously nutritive cacao bean–is also a very, very good friend of mine. mmmm)

My “raw food guru crush,” David Wolfe. To be fair, I would crush on anybody holding Goji and raw cacao nibs. Hmmm…must be the food I am crushing on.

Besides being a complete protein source (exceptional to note in a plant!) and rich in a spectrum of vitamins and minerals, gojis are said to promote longevity, reduce free-radical damage, have adaptogenic (stress-relieving) properties, and–according to Wolfe–they improve vision, enhance immune system, increase libido, keep organs vital and offer brain, neurological, and cardiovascular support.  Which on that list would you not appreciate?

Such power in such a small package!  You may start to see why they are so celebrated by the Whole Foods crowd.  Paying the big bucks to buy them by the pound might almost be justifiable, unless there is a better way.

Beauty and Brains…a total package!

Grow Your Own Gojis!

Meet my better way….grow them yourself! Growing goji berries is not as hard as you might think.  There are so many benefits to having a super fruit in your own garden!  Goji berries are:

  • Easy to grow (I haven’t killed them yet!)
  • Drought tolerant
  • Prolific (hundreds of berries from each vine-like branch and they branch out more and more each year!)
  • Novel (do your neighbors have them next to their marigolds and petunias? I bet not!)
  • Attractive (those little purple flowers dare you not to smile)
  • Possibly Lucrative…If you won’t pay to tour my garden, maybe you will purchase a bar of goji goat milk soap! (Yeah, that is a forthcoming Purple Barn creation, I will put you on the waiting list right after me.)

I have tried three methods now–seed, seedlings, and root stock–and I have managed some level of success with all three!

From seed to super!

Seeds:

Slow and steady. To grow by seed you can order them on Amazon. Or come snag a berry from me. Each berry has about ten seeds in there. One or two are certain to germinate!

Sprout indoors somewhere warm. After about 10 days, you will see enough root that you can move it to a greenhouse or outside if it is warm enough.  This method is slow. It takes 2 years to get berries from a seed.  But it is worth the wait and the ultimate in frugal feed!

Seedling:

A nice middle ground.  You can order 1 year seedlings from all kinds of catalogs now. I ordered a few the fall we moved in from the Burgess catalog.  They were scrawny when they arrived, but pulled through and are now resilient and full of character. Hmmm…much like my kids.  I will admit, I didn’t think these little seedlings would live through the winter. So…I forgot about them and went about other projects. (Green thumbs up!) Imagine my surprise when I commenced weeding out a weed encumbered bed on the side of the house and found a thriving berry patch! If they can live with little watering, zero attention, and completely covered in morning glory, then gojis can certainly make it in your spot of garden!

Keep an eye out. I found goji seedlings in my local garden center for the first time this summer!  You may want to hurry and get ahead of this fad so you can say you had them first!

Root stock:

my favorite; more expensive, but designed for the impatient. This spring I splurged on 3 year root stock from this place: “Buy Goji Berries.” I love them. They are friendly, answer questions, and I love love love patronizing the little guys. Did that sound patronizing? Burgess wouldn’t give me the time of day when I called and asked for info on growing gojis, but these guys will answer, encourage, and even use the profits for a good cause (animal rescue)!  The root stock I planted this spring are teeming with bright red cylindrical berry goodness.

I planted these in 5 gallon buckets, in premium garden soil amended with compost (thank you bunnies) and left them in full sun. I water regularly and have been rewarded. But keep in mind, the neglected berries of last year are doing nearly as well. (and that through this year’s drought! I wish my lawn was so forgiving!)  I am still trying to figure exactly where I want my goji patch planted permanently, but for now they make an excellent accent on my patio.

Full Disclosure:

I have to be honest, this is, after all the Internet. Mother Nature apparently packed these babies with so many healing properties that a side effect was inescapable: taste.  The immediate sweetness is surprising as it explodes on your tongue, however just as you are tempted to dance on your tip toes, the after taste hits and the afterglow immediately dissipates.  They taste like MEDICINE. Not kidding. Having eaten several now, I have to mentally urge myself to “say Ahhhh” before I can eat them straight off the vine.

So are they worth it? Well you won’t find me fighting my kids to the death over the last one on the vine (that scene has occurred in my raspberry patch on several occasions. We used to have ten children and are now down to four).  But the health benefits are off the chart and the tinny taste disappears in smoothies, salad dressings, or other sauces. They can be used fresh or dried.  I made a strawberry smoothie for my flu-laden sister one morning and she reported a “buzz” of such magnitude, she arose from her tomb and cleaned house.  They really do pack a punch!  And if you just can’t get past the flavor….dip them in chocolate. Oh yeah.

I am proud of my little powerhouse berries.  I like to think Tibet and I now have more in common than just our abounding flow of wisdom.  Salt Lake City Goji Grower, that is me!

If you need more detailed Goji growing information, check out Sask Goji Power Nursery…lots of info on how to grow, where to plant, etc. You can order seeds or seedlings from them, though I haven’t tried them myself.  Good luck!

Buying Goji Berries

If you decide to buy them in bulk rather than grow your own, I recommend shopping asian markets. I have purchased them for as low as $6.99 a pound dried, by far the best price I’ve encountered for whole goji berries.  Otherwise, they are available in most health food stores and showing up more and more in supermarkets.

If you like shopping in your jammies, check out the Amazon suggestions below!

 

Kids in the Trunk

In my last update I mentioned how loud the baby goaties were after separating them from their mommies.  Loud doesn’t begin to cover it.  Consider that their cries sound like distressed children, and you can guess the toll it takes on your nerves. “Maaaaaaaaaam!!”  The poor things cried until they lost their voices.  I began to question the whole “dominion over the earth” man was given and thought instead I should tuck them back in with their moms and apologize profusely.  I can picture it now, “Shea we can’t milk them anymore, and oh, the goats have requested that we chill their water buckets and arrange a pedicure.”

Shea’s approach was more practical. Find them a home ASAP.  Turns out, we have some family with 2 acres in Payson who were excited to welcome the little weed-eaters.  The long-term plan (remember, there is always a plan with us!) is to pasture Buddy and Coraline all summer and then pick them up in the fall, all fat and happy.   From there details blur.

That brings us to the short-term plan. Considering we had two goats, a 75 minute drive, and no trailer or truck, the plan looked something like this:

That’s right, that is the back of my van, a tarp, and some Pampers.  Are the diapers overkill? Remember, I’ve cleaned “chee chee shee” off the DVD player in my van; I wasn’t about to trust a goat. They can whiz like a…you know, maybe I won’t finish that simile.

We let the kids out of their makeshift pen and they immediately bolted to their mamas.  I tried not to anthropomorphicize (it’s a word now!) the moment, but in my head I heard violin music.

I wish so much I had a better picture of the following scene: Shea slapping some plushy size 5’s on a couple of “teenage” goats in the back of a van.  I tried, really. But after an intense moment of struggling, he said something sweet like “Stop taking pictures for your dumb blog and help me!”  Hey, you can’t judge until you’ve tried diapering a goat.

With the kids bum-tucked and secured, we piled our other children in the van and hit the road. I had imagined a long drive of wailing kids and frantic attempts to jump over the backseat or, worse, to eat it. But as soon as we began moving, they settled right in and we didn’t hear a peep from them the whole time. Relief. It made for a surprisingly uneventful drive.  Sad, as I had also imagined getting pulled over and explaining why there were kids in my trunk.  That would have made a great blog post.

We arrived in Payson and let the babies out to pasture.  They had pulled their diapers off, but the evidence remained to show that they had indeed served their purpose.  Remind me to call Pampers and tell them I have an idea for a commercial.  Buddy and Coraline immediately loved their new home.  What looked like a huge patch of weeds and brush to me must have had all the allure of an all you can eat buffet….or an unguarded Costco sample stand. They instantly took to their surroundings. They pranced, they danced, they nibbled on everything.  I think they forgave me for the separation anxiety we had all suffered. In fact, I think as soon as they hit the green they forgot they had moms at all….like the first weekend at a college dorm!  (love you, mom!)

Buddy and Coraline about to go unleashed.

Things have settled down delightfully since we took the kids for a ride.  I even gave the mama goats, Punky and Dora, a well deserved pedicure. We mucked out the barn and spruced things up a bit.  You may remember last time we did that.…this round I was prepared.

Oh we are way beyond bandanas now. Funny though, you could still taste the smell. Gross.

We love our goats and we love our goat milk.  I am really obnoxious, making everyone who visits try it and then hovering over them awaiting the raves, like I had something to do with the recipe. Seriously good stuff. Swing by the purple barn, I will buy you a drink!

Updates on our mini farm: Animals!

I got y’all caught up on the yard and garden. Ha, there is never such thing as “caught up” around here. Thought I would give you a tiny update on the critters:

Goats

Coraline, 10 minutes old

I never had time to announce the birth of our babies! How fitting that our first goatling arrived on Friday the 13th, adding a nice touch of authentic gruesome fun to our party night. We were a little disappointed to only have single births, but I guess that is common for first time does. They look almost exactly like their mamas did last year! We love our little reruns, named Buddy and Coraline. This year wasn’t nearly as scary as last year’s birth.  We are learning. We even dehorned them ourselves and, ummm, fixed our boy.  Brave indeed!  Sometimes the things I do feel like someone else’s life!

Buddy and Coraline frolicking

This week has been a challenge though as we have attempted to separate them from their mamas in preparation for weaning and relocating them. To say they cry would be an understatement. I’ve had reports that neighbors 6 doors down can hear the bleating wails of moms and kids! I am almost certain the hoarse but high-pitched “Maaaaaaaaaamm!” can be heard from space. If you hear an unsettling cry on the wind, wherever you are, my apologies. This may be the worst part of goating, I think. Even worse than mucking the goat shed (which really needs to be done again, gulp!) The best part? Maybe the 2 gallons a day we are getting of awesome, fresh goat milk. We have our system down and can detect zero goatiness in the milk.  Infinitely better than my first taste!  Not only can I drink it straight without wrinkling my nose, but we all love it and have sworn off the plastic gallon jugs.  A sigh of relief as we sport our goat-staches!

Bunnies

Two studs: Shea’s bro Nick and our buck, Gizer.

We have a great system going. Even as we just tucked 8 away in the freezer, we have another batch about 4 weeks from full size and a brand new batch born yesterday (I know baby bunnies are called “kindles” but I keep saying batches like they are a bucket of cookie dough or something). The plan is working well because there are always cute fuzzies to play with and by the time they are big enough to “process” there are more cute fuzzies. My kids actually enjoy eating rabbit and we have become used to the whole routine. We’ve come a long way. I hate to use the word desensitized, but maybe that is what we are. The actual killing moment remains traumatic, but beyond that I am a little amazed to say I can skin and clean a rabbit faster than Shea, so that has weirdly become my job. A testament to our sickness might be the dinner I brought to my inlaws house for Easter Sunday:

Herbed Easter Bunnies on a bed of carrots.

We are getting good use and NEVER waste a scrap of meat. I usually prepare one in the crock pot a week.  We use it in any recipe you would fix with chicken.  Then the bones go back in the crock pot and simmer until I get every drop of broth out of it that I can. Factor in that we harvest the “bunny berries” and use it for fertilizer…homemade miracle grow!…and I think we can say the rabbits have been really good to us! For further value, I thought of making lucky rabbit feet key rings for Christmas gifts, but that seems a little much. :)  I wanted to promote mindful eating practices, especially after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivores Dilemma, and I think we have done just that.

Chee Chees

Big Bertha, we couldn’t even shut the carton on this bad boy.

More than a year later, we still call them chee chees.  We started with 4 and now have 15 (I think).  We get about a dozen eggs a day. We are enjoying the farm freshness, the bright orange yolks, and the occasional mutant egg.  I sell extra eggs to friends and neighbors for $4/doz.  Sometimes I even get cool trades (That load of dirt I used in the front yard actually cost me 6 dozen eggs.) The chickens are fun to watch and come running anytime we venture out hoping we have a bucket of kitchen scraps for them. NOTHING goes to waste around here! I even learned how to make a homemade calcium supplement out of powdered egg shells (link here), so what we don’t wash and feed back to the chickens I can actually use myself!  Chickens are fun and low maintenance, I highly recommend them for your backyard! (Google urban coops to see all kinds of possibilities!)

Family

Shea has the gift to nap anywhere. He deserved this one!

And how about the other animals?  We are, well, tired. Shea and I go to bed aching every night from all the work we put in. Spring is the busiest time of year. Except maybe Fall. And the time in between. It is sometimes frustrating to work our schedule around milking time and the kids aren’t always excited to do farm chores (Come on, who wouldn’t line up to shovel poo?) But overall, we are loving it. I feel like this gopher-ridden patch of dandelions was made for us and my head literally spins with more projects to start! Come visit anytime, Purple Barn is a fun place to play.

Updates on our Mini Farm: Yard and Garden

I really intended to write more about the farm. The timely posts that have expired and been tossed to my mental junk folder are numerous indeed. Despite the best of intentions, this barnyard life has us hopping and there has been no time! So here is a long overdue catch up….

Yard

Our half acre is overwhelming but fun.  Despite multiple applications of weed and feed, I think we actually fed the weeds! The lawn is hopelessly infested with gophers and no amount of gassing, poisoning, or trapping has seemed to deter the buggers.  So our yard is a shambles and a shame on a street full of perfectly manicured landscapes.  But we are trying!

I built beds in the front yard and am working on a brick border. It looks promising.  I tried not to be discouraged with my budget landscaping as Zaida and I hauled the dirt I got free and reclaimed bricks (fancy word for scrounged) by ourselves all morning.  Meanwhile, I watched teams of professional landscapers driving by to work on other houses in the ‘hood.  I’d like to think I am green with grass stains rather than jealousy, but I will admit it: I have yard envy.   Just when I was about to think I would never finish the job before I had to return a borrowed trailer, a neighbor with bigger muscles than me pitched in and we had it all hauled before Shea got home.  Have I mentioned I have the nicest neighbors ever? Unless Shea reads my blog, he may never know I didn’t do it all myself.  It is good for him to think I work harder than I do, right? :) The beds are looking good.   I may not have the finances for a professional touch, but hey…my way burns more calories!  We plan on “edible landscaping.” What else? I have already planted comfrey for the animals and lavender.  Elderberries are in the corner (which I only know from Monte Python fame “your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of Elderberries!) I have flats of annuals I can’t wait to plant after I get the border done and plan to put tall sunflowers along the fence.

Do child labor laws apply to your own children? Move it, Zaida! ha ha

Now I only need to figure out how to build a little brick wall. How hard can it be?

For earth day we planted 8 new crabapple trees on the parking strip.  My saving grace is my container garden which is starting to look awesome.  We lined the front walk way with assorted ceramic pots.  I am hoping it draws the eye away from our spacious tribute to dandelion virility.  Sigh. As an extra bonus, the pots hide a lot of the spray paint the previous owners left all over the cement. (Anyone know how to get that off? Pressure washing didn’t do it.)

Garden

I am so excited to announce our garden is nearly ready to go! We built 2 boxes last year and are just finishing 2 more this spring. Sad to say I missed the cold crop planting, but we have big plans for our now EIGHT HUNDRED SQUARE FEET of raised beds!  They are theoretically gopher proof and the dirt was delivered an hour ago.  (That’s in addition to the huge load of composted horse manure I hauled in my van–I need a truck!!)  We have half the trellises built and the rest will be done this week.  We are optimistically looking forward to a huge harvest.  I have been playing with new ways (new to me) to preserve mass quantities of produce and we are loving the thought that we might not have to buy veggies anymore. Hopefully tonight we get to plant! I have been hardening off my plants (started indoors) and after weeding, building, hauling and generally working our tails off, I can’t wait for the “fun part.” Second only to “picking,” planting is big fun for our family.

Chicken wire to deter gophers, recycling at its best to block weeds, and then lots and lots of dirty fun!

Shea and his helpers fashioned removable trellises which we will also use to construct “hot houses” next spring. Yay!

Outside the box (ha ha) we have other experiments starting to take off.  My raspberry patch is thriving and spreading so that my mouth is already watering.  I have gojii berries planted that are starting to sport bright green chutes.  The cheapest I’ve ever found the super berries are ten bucks a pound so I thought why not grow them? Plans are in the works to grow sunflowers, jerusalem artichokes, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.  And heaven knows we are not-so-patiently waiting for the 14 fruit trees we planted a year and a half ago to take off.  Can’t believe we have lived here that long already! Considering there was not so much as a strawberry planted when we got here, this is exciting stuff!  Well, back to hauling dirt. I will update you on the animal fun tomorrow!

We spent Earth Day sprucing up our piece of the planet. I know, you want my hat.

Rabbit: Its What’s for Dinner

For a book nerd like me, it has been a rush to read about things and then see them in action.  Reading is how I learned to cook, can, sprout, garden, decorate, build websites, raise worms, coupon shop, even palm read. Lavar Burton was right, “take a look, it’s in a book.”   This “farm” has been like an over elaborate book report!  But the shift from black and white to live action was never so dramatic as it was last weekend.  You’ll recall my post on our rabbit operation; I was full of plans and theories and even jokes (me? never!)  I lightly posted our visions of home meat production and wholesome values.  Well here I sit on the other end, the cycle complete….I don’t know what to say.

Here is a short pictorial account of the journey:

Becca holding the Mack Daddy of the bunny operation

Insert magic wand sound and sparkles here.

Voila! neatly turned into meat!

Brined, Braised, and Bon Appetit!

I swear, that is exactly how it happened.  And we all live happily ever after.

If you are still reading, then maybe you don’t believe me.

I have pondered the “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and Shea and I both agree that if you don’t want to be a vegetarian, then you should be respectful, ethical, and conservative in your meat consumption.  We figured raising our own meat, eggs, and milk was a cost-effective alternative to purchasing the more expensive free-range, natural products.  The rabbit enterprise seemed perfect.

You may have noticed that when I posted in JUNE that I mentioned our first round of babies would be ready in 4 weeks.  Nearly twice that time has elapsed, partly because we have been really busy, and partly because, when it came time to butcher the rabbits we were, well, chicken.  So, 2 weeks ago Shea finally “processed” the first 2 bunnies.  The plan was for me to help, but when it came down to it, he locked me out and forbade anyone coming in the garage to help.  Shea was very white-faced and sullen when he emerged with two Ziplocks of meat.  He could hardly talk about it.

The following Saturday, he prepared to finish the job: 6 more rabbits.  I insisted on helping because I didn’t want him going through that again by himself.  I reasoned that Shea is a sensitive soul, and I could be strong (code for insensitive.)  All the reading I did was not enough to prepare me.  I will spare you too many details.  Books don’t tell you that bunnies scream.  Articles don’t tell you that their eyes don’t close and they stare at you.  And no one writes what it feels like to take a life.

I dealt pretty well with skinning and cleaning them. I was even a little proud of my cave girl skills.  I was faster than Shea (he points out we weren’t racing.)  All that was okay.  It is the brief moment between when the rabbit is breathing and when it is not that things get difficult.  You can use words like “fast” or “humane,” but killing something…that is the traumatic part.

I can see why people go vegetarian.

Shea and I have discussed this at great length, and we are going to stick with the plan.  If we are going to consume meat, we both feel we should assume the responsibility, the burden, attached with that.  This whole experience was educational and sobering for me, much more so than reading a book.  I still can’t figure how to convey it.

We resolved not to waste a scrap of food.  I researched how to cook rabbit (reading again!), and fumbled my way through the prep.  I brined and then braised our first meal and served it with steamed veggies and fresh fruit. It was like our version of the first thanksgiving.  Even the kids were reverent as we blessed the food and gave thanks.  For the record it does taste like chicken…dark meat.  Damon says it is much better than eating worms.

We probably sound melodramatic to hunters who have done this a hundred times, or to those who’ve only seen their meat faceless between two sesame buns.  We probably are.  But I think being connected to our food supply has benefits that surpass monetary value or even health.  This blog post was probably a bit dry (though thankfully, the meat wasn’t!!) but the experience really knocked the jokes right out of me.  I am hoping we will get faster and perhaps less introspective as we repeat the process in the future.  I can say I am thankful my family has never gone hungry, thankful I don’t rely on my hunting skills to live, and thankful I married a guy who will go through the trenches with me…even if we created those trenches ourselves.

Fast Food: These nuggets can run!

Now, cross your fingers.  We have 12 meat chickens running around–they graduated from Damon’s windowsill–and they are a getting pretty big.  Gulp.

Window Chicks: a New Way to Brood

     Enter the realm of the unusual.  My son, Damon, designed his own spaceship room, so you can expect something different when you open the door.  This is what might first catch your eye. Is it earthly?  Is it extra terrestrial?
On closer inspection you realize….it’s alive!


What other 7 year old can claim he has 12 chicks peeking in his window?

     A trip with the kids to the farm store to buy feed took an unexpected turn when we met these little guys. Shea didn’t even raise an eyebrow when he came home from work and found TWELVE new additions to our little biosphere. We’ve raised chicks before (look at us, getting the hang of things!) but the cage we used is now occupied by other critters. What to do? Shea, in a stroke of genius, offered this space-saving solution: Damon’s window well. It has all the features necessary: safely contained, ventilated, equipped with power for the heat lamp, and it even doubles as a night-light for Damon!  There was only a slight adjustment as he got used to the peeping toms (pun intended).
     Unlike our other round of chicas, these are meat birdies. Cornish Rock Broilers to be exact. So it is totally appropriate to hear my kids singing, “I looked out my window and what did I see?…Popcorn chicken looking back at me.”

The temporary arrangement will serve us well until they are old enough to go outside.  In fact, if things on the dressing end go well, (remember, we still have yet to butcher anything ourselves) we might make this a permanent rotation.  Some people can’t sleep without the dishwasher running or the sounds of trains passing by….Damon will be acclimated to the peeps and chirps of chicks.  That might prove awkward when he gets to college.

On a vaguely related note, here is a picture of Tayler’s window. A vast improvement over her last round of graffiti, I must say. I don’t even mind the misspelled word.

 

I think I might let this one stay up for a while.

 

Milk, Muck, and Ruckus

Been awhile since my last post. I have a few updates.

Milk:

I realized I haven’t commented since my initial intro to goat milk. What a fiasco that was! Since then, I would like to set the record straight for all of you hesitant to try goat’s milk: it is yummy.  A quality milk goat and meticulous collection and cooling yields a creamy, mild milk with little to no “goatiness.” In fact, after drinking goat milk exclusively for the last 2 months or so, when I finally tasted cow milk again, I could detect “cowiness.” The fact is, good things come from good goat milk. Proof is in the cheesecake, ice cream, yogurt, breads, and other baking I have done with it. Unfortunately, when I offer people a taste, they adopt the same expression as if I just issued a double dare. Just the other day, my mom repeatedly told me how she had no interest in tasting goat milk, even as she ate a bowl of chocolate pudding I had made. Umm, yeah…goat pudding.  Sometimes I don’t bother to tell people they are consuming goat.  Other times, I am sure to mention it…so they will pass and leave more for me!  So raise a glass to my goat girls, goat milk is good!

Muck:

So while Erika was busy rewriting history on our nation’s birthday, Shea and I were having our own party in our own, all-American purple barn.  It was time for the first of our semi-annual “barn muckings.”  How hard could that be?  Goats are relatively clean and low odor.  You simply throw clean straw every now and again and they disperse it and stay nice and dry and tidy. Right? Well every so often, you have to muck out the layers of bedding–from which I read you get amazing compost, gold for your garden!–and put down fresh stuff and start the layering all over again.  Shea and I set out to accomplish this task, one of many initiations into our new country life.  We were living the dream and a little high on ourselves as we grabbed our pitchfork (yes, we actually have one!) and dug in.  You may have to ask Erika, but I think the horrors of bombs bursting in air might have been mild compared to the bio-terror lurking beneath the amber waves of straw on that barn floor!!!

The stink we stirred up was enough to scorch your nose hairs and make skunks run for cover.  We had tears in our eyes as we choked on the overpowering vapors.  I feared our children would find our bodies hours later.  It was horrific.  Be glad there is no technology to attach odors to blog posts; the nasty-factor of this stench made the worm eating contest I grossed y’all out with seem a mere truffle tasting.   Shea and I persevered, but with every fork full of fetid foulness, I saw the price of my “purple barn products” go up a little bit.  I’m telling you, I changed diapers for 8 years straight; at one point, I had three kids in nappies at the same time, and I have NEVER encountered such a smell as the demucking of the goat shed.  It was so formidable, I even began commemorating our own battle in song, “Mine nose has smelled the horror of the mucking of the shed, we have battled evil odors that would nearly blow your head, we have forked the fateful straw that held a smell to wake the dead, the stink goes on and on…..” you get the idea.  Like a battle scar, the memory of that day will haunt my dreams.  So I hope you enjoyed the wafting smells of brats and watermelon, of apple pie, even the smell of fireworks.  As for me and my troop, on that fourth of July, we breathed deep the fresh country air…cough cough.

Ruckus: 

One last update.  We have a new addition at the purple barn….a rooster named Penguin (why not? We have a rabbit named Brown Cow).  A neighbor bought some chicks and was surprised when one of her ladies turned out to be a gent.  So she graciously gave him to us.  We had talked about getting a rooster, but were on the fence about the whole issue.  Well, we are never ones to turn down opportunities (more specifically, freebies).  When Penguin arrived, I was immediately struck by how handsome he was.  I can see now why roosters strut, they are, in fact, hot stuff.  I am sure you can all foresee the problem that soon materialized…and no I am not referring to the fact that Becca (5) would like to rename Penguin “Mr. Cock.”   As he checked his new turf out, he let out a crow that was pretty mild.  I thought “really? why do they have such a bad rep, that was actually quite pleasant. Quaint even.” Apparently, they do not put their heart into it until, oh, say FIVE FIFTEEN IN THE MORNING!!!!!!

I awoke with a start at the sounds of our new, all natural, organic, cordless ALARM CLOCK.  And he is not even fully grown yet! At that precise moment, I came up with a name for him that made Becca’s seem pretty harmless.  Penguin’s fate now hangs in the air. I will be polling the neighbors to see how disturbed they are by his cock-a-doodle-dooing and consider if I can adjust to the wake up call myself.  Maybe it is time to get those noise cancelling headphones I dream about. Or maybe it is time to have a new friend for dinner.

P.S.

As a quick bonus for those of you who endured that much rambling, a picture of the first egg out of one of our Araucanas.  When chicks start laying, you get small or weird shaped eggs. It is an adventure every day. This tall skinny tribute to the incredible edible just made me laugh. (the brown one is a normal sized egg.) I love my chickens.

The Purple Barn: A Proud Family Tradition since 2011

Happy accidents. I love them. 50% of my offspring were happy accidents. Can I say that on a blog?
We had a happy accident while painting our little barn this weekend. It almost became the Barbie house of livestock, but now, my family “farm” has an identity.
The vision for the barn was traditional, classic Red with White trim. But alas, I am cheap. I scrounged free paint. (This is not new, all my kids’ rooms are painted with bright colors I obtained by rummaging at the dump.) After mixing all the reds I had on hand, I ended up with….drumroll please….PINK. Hot pink.

I tried to envision my barn that color, and it wouldn’t have worked without a disco ball, maybe even a pole. It just wasn’t right.
So we ran the 5 gallon atrocity to Lowe’s. They added a million shots of red to it and behold….pinker.  As a last resort, they added some black and voila! We ended up with purple. So I now have a purple barn. I love it.

My friend Leslie took time to come help me paint all day Saturday.  We have painted

A sad, colorless barn

together countless times, but this was a new dynamic.  Have you ever been painting while a goat chewed on your cargo pants?  While chickens pecked at your toenail polish?  One unfortunately adventurous chicken has a purple dollop on her back as a souvenir.

I love that Shea was gone all day and came home expecting a red barn only to  behold our Barney-inspired artwork.  He didn’t even blink.  Guess he is used to surprises by now.

Wedged between the barn and the coop. Love my painting outfit?

The more I think about it, the more I like it though.  We need to register our goat herd so we can have our goats papered (because why not?) and couldn’t think of a great herd name.  I wanted a name that we could also use for the line of products I hope to be whipping out down the line: fresh eggs, cheeses, jams, salsa, produce, lotions and even soaps.  And there you go: Purple Barn!  I can see the logo on my custom labels and jars now!  Watch out, you will be begging for that brand one day! :)  But I am getting carried away. First, I have to actually finish painting the thing.  (I hate trim!)

Still working on the trim, but you can’t miss this from the street!

Happy things happening down at the Purple Barn (sounds like a bar, awesome!)  Here is a short clip of a typical morning romp at the barn.    I love the combo of jammies, cowboy boots and hat Zaida has going on.  (and sorry, I will figure how to flip it vertically when I have time.)

Learning the Birds and Bees from Bunnies

You’ve met our goats…you’ve met our chickens…you’ve even met our worms, but wait! there’s more!  What is cute, fuzzy, and more proliferous than me and Shea?….meet our rabbits.

We started the bunny chronicles in February when we brought 3 New Zealand rabbits home: 2 ladies and a gent. I guess in rabbit lingo they are called does and bucks.  I am learning a lot about rabbits, maybe more than you want to know. Read on.

Gizer, living the life.

The kids named our mister Gizer, which is short for Energizer. I know, they are geniuses.  He is all black and lives a cushy life.  The ladies aren’t quite as big as our buck.  Lily is nearly all white and then there is the freckled one, Brown Cow.  I told you I have no control over the naming process.  Those of you who know rabbits know already what will probably appall others of you: New Zealands are MEAT rabbits.  Yup.  Before you recoil in horror at the fact that my children are playing with chops, we have a plan.

I originally wanted rabbits when I found out that their, um, droppings are the equivalent of miracle grow.  To a gardener (or green thumb wannabe), they excrete gold.  It is the only animal manure that can be added straight to a garden without composting.  As excited as I was about poop, it didn’t quite win over Shea.  I can’t imagine why. So I tried a new approach.  By now y’all know the way to my man’s heart…

Brown Cow, our first Bunny Mama

I researched their food value.  Shea and I want to see how self-sufficient we can get on half an acre, hence the garden, dairy goats, and egg layers.  Did you know that one female bunny, when you take into account all the babies she can have, can produce as much meat in a year as a COW? You read that right.  They are inexpensive to feed and their meat is higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken.  That cinched the deal.  So now we have the makings of a McRabbit factory.

How will the kids handle this?  They’ve never eaten more than a chocolate bunny and they’ve certainly never had a drumstick for a pet.  The plan is to alternate kindles (I wish I meant the much coveted reading devices, but no, I mean litters of bunnies) so that by the time one bunch is ready to “go to market” there are more adorable fluff balls to play with.  Think it will work or am I setting my kids up for trauma?  All the stats and plans look good on paper, but we have never actually butchered anything in our lives.  We have 4 more weeks till our first round of babies reach “fryer age.”  Ask me how brilliant my plan is then.  Maybe recommend some child psychologists too.

In the meantime, the kids love the rabbits.  Gizer, Lily, and Brown Cow have a permanent stay of execution.  You just can’t eat anyone with a name.  Lily and Brown Cow have the formidable task of pumping out offspring.  I sympathize.  Unlike myself, I will allow them time to pack up their maternity clothes before they suit up again.  Though they can have litters 2 months apart (more if you are really irresponsible), I will wait awhile longer.  After having my own kindle of 4 in 5 years, I would never impose.  Our man Gizer has it really good.  When the time comes, we deliver him a lady friend, we light some candles, play some music, and he gets his game on.  What guy wouldn’t trade him places? Less than 5 minutes of “work” every month or so and he gets to relax.

Wait, why do they call him Thumper?

I am new to the process of matchmaking animals.  The lady I bought them from shared some ground rules: Always bring the girl to the guy’s cage (if she has the home court advantage, she could reject him. You know, a little authority goes to our heads).  He will thump his foot to show he is ready (suddenly Bambi’s little buddy doesn’t seem so innocent).  You have to stay and watch so you can remove the doe right after (really?)  And here is what got me: when he is done with the deed he will “freeze and fall to the side” at which time you take the mistress back to her pad.  She couldn’t really mean that, could she?

When it came time to start the wheels in motion, I brought our first bunny-geisha to Gizer.  He immediately approved with a thump of his foot as my whole family gathered around to see what they would do (I told you before, we really need cable.)  Sure enough, the buck pinned her and after about 3o seconds he fell off to the side, stunned.  Now maybe that is more information than you wanted to know about rabbits, but that just strikes my funny bone.

A few days later, my brother (who was also there for the peep show) brought me a package of my favorite bubblegum and when I saw it, I froze and fell over on the couch.  That has become our new expression for elation.  Opening birthday presents will never be the same at our house.

Move over OctoMom, you are no match for this mama!

About 29 days later, we had a bunch of wiggly bundles in the nest box.  You can tell a doe is close to birthing when she pulls her hair out to make a nest.  Funny, I didn’t start pulling my hair out until after my kids were born.

At ten days the babies open their eyes.  After 3 weeks, the babies are fully fuzzed and wandering–old enough to play with!  At 8 weeks, they are weaned from their mommas and ready to go to new homes…or dinner tables.  Such is the life-cycle of a baby bunny at our house.

The babies are adorable…cute little morsels, you might say.  My kids are having a grand time.  And they are learning the facts of life:  Boys and girls like to play games, leapfrog is one of them.  When a girl tells a boy he is going to be a daddy, he gets so excited he falls over.  And babies are cute.  When they are no longer cute, they disappear and we get more babies.  Hmmm….maybe I need to reevaluate their education?

They’re cute, but I would still trade my kindle for a Kindle!

 

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