Tuesday, July 30, 2013

They don't wear galoshes

We have had so much rain here this year.  My 102 year old mother in law says she has never seen anything like it and that's a whole lotta years to be comparing to.   We've certainly seen rain in large quantities come through quickly but not over such an extended period of time. The farmers growing vegetables have had quite a difficult year.

As livestock farmers, were not complaining. If your in the business of grass, things are good!  We have an abundance of grass and the sheep are loving it. This would be a year we'd duplicate in a heart beat...if given the choice.  Alas, that's not the way mother nature works.  So, we'll enjoy our bounty this year and hope to be as grateful next year.... regardless of what she has in store for us.

Rain or shine, there are chores on the farm that must be done!  Egg collections is just one.

Much to the dismay of Sir Richard (pictured here) we collect eggs daily.  He'd prefer having little progeny strutting about.  At least, based on his frequency of procreation you'd want to think that.  Believe you me, it's far from his fault there aren't little chicks running around.  Those of you that know chickens know what I'm talking about.  Wear those hens OUT!  That's why many farms choose not to have a rooster.  Unless you want chicks there is really no reason to have roosters.  Unless of course your like me and believe a farm isn't complete with out the morning crow of the rooster.

For some reason when it rains our eggs are covered in mud.  I haven't quite figured out how the mud gets on the eggs but they are generally covered.  It's not just one egg.  It's not just one hen.  I try not to disturb the eggs too much so if they arrive looking clean I put them directly in the egg carton.  On a normal day of collection (sans rain) there is always an egg or two that needs a bit of attention but not the majority and mud is usually not an issue.

The girls have nesting boxes to lay their eggs.  The nesting boxes are under the cover of the chicken coop roof so neither the nests or the coop perches are exposed to rain or mud.  The nesting boxes themselves aren't muddy.  Just how do those eggs get so muddy?  Maybe their feather bums drag across the grass hitting the occasional mud puddle or two and that's how it happens? They share nesting boxes so maybe it's one hen that is just a dirty girl with dirty feet?  Maybe it's one hen that likes to dirty the other girls eggs?  Maybe the hens get a little crazy?

Maybe Hen Party has more meaning then we know?  There are too many dirty eggs for it to be one or two hens.  How many hens does it take to have a hen party?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Blackberry Lime Jam

I have ventured into a creative space with my jams this year. I think I've overcome the fears around preserving and I'm feeling a bit brave.  Preserving is such a wonderful way to share gifts that keep on giving. It is a feeling like no other when you open a jar of something you made months, the previous year, or even years before and taste all the love you put into it.  The preserves get stored on a shelf waiting for the next PB&J or fluffy buttermilk biscuit slathered with butter.  The memory of what, how, where and when get stored away with them.  Then one day you walk into the pantry and pull out a jar. POP goes the lid and all those luscious fruits and memories are there for the spreading.

So the first "creative flavor combo" for me this year, Blackberry and Lime.  I can't take credit for the idea.  I knew I had a bunch of blackberries and I wanted something a bit different so I 'Googled' . Last year I tried a Blackberry Peach recipe.  That didn't get it.  The blackberries just over powered the peaches.  I've also tried a triple berry and it was good but I wanted something unusual.  The addition of the lime adds a brightness.  You can barely detect it until you read the label and then you exclaim, "I knew I tasted something a bit different.  I think this is a keeper.  See what you think

The jam recipe is ever so basic folks.  All I do is measure 2 pounds of fruit and place it in a non metal bowl with 4-8 ounces of  sugar.  The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit and your taste buds. Then, finely grate the rind of 1-2 limes. Stir well.  Cover the fruit, sugar and lime peel and place it in the fridge for at least 24 hours. If your schedule gets hectic I've left it there for 3 days.  Yikes you say, but it was fine.  I adore this recipe for this reason.  So often my days plans get interrupted by something going on around the farm.  I have to be flexible and this recipe flex's with me.  Actually this year the blackberries didn't seem to break down at all in 24 hours.  That's what you want, the sugar and the fruit to macerate, or break down together.

OK.  Your 2 do list is letting up a bit and you can see your way clear to get into the kitchen and finish your preserves.  Place the fruit in a non reactive pot and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer, simmer until....

Here is the secret word friends...EVAPORATION.  It might not smack you in the head the way it did me but when I read about it in Christine Ferber's  beautiful book about preserves, Mes Confitures  I was like, Dah. Of course. That's all jam and jelly making is, removing the liquid from the fruit until it concentrates. So,the days of slaving over the stove worried about the precise timing of the process are over.  I know what to look for now.  When the liquids have dissipated I know it's time for me to really participate in the process.  Don't get me wrong I do stir the mixture as it goes I just don't stress over WHEN the mixture is about to jell.  So, after the fruit starts to thicken up I add my flavors.  I added 1 Tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of lime zest.  Give the flavors a change to meld and then taste it.  If it needs more, go ahead but remember the flavors develop.  When it's time to check the set you may want to use a thermometer. The jam should reach 221 degrees Fahrenheit.  Another method used is a chilled plate.  
 Place some of your jam on the plate.  If a line drawn with your finger doesn't bleed, your good to go!  Now it's time to can that JAM!  

I won't spend time of the basics of canning on this blog.  Ball is an excellent site and has resources galore.  Basically fill your processed jars and process the jam in a water bath for 10 minutes but the Ball site will answer all your questions.

I am here to tell you this is another practice makes perfect story.  Each time you preserve fruit, be it jam, jelly, marmalade, chutney or whole, you will have a new experience.  The fruit will differ year to year and so will your finished product.

 I use this basic recipe for everything now.  The only thing I might change in the process is adding 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice to the macerating fruit if I want the flavor or so the fruit doesn't discolor.  When the fruit begins to thicken I add my flavors.  While surfing about the web I found a fabulous chart on Northwest Edible Life
blog that I will use as my guide  but once you get the basics the SKY'S THE LIMIT.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lamb Sliders

Requested again and I'm finally getting "round 2 it".  It wasn't until I saw our recipe published in another newsletter that I felt the boot in my backside.

We all have a few favorite recipes in our collection.  Why do we love one recipe over another?  Is it all about taste?  I think not. Preparation being such a huge part of the creation plays a huge role in my liking a recipe or not.  I've made a few things in my life that tasted good to me but I just didn't enjoy preparing.  If a recipe is too technical or requires too much of my attention it's usually not for me.  Like, puff pastry....why would anyone want to slave over such a process when you can buy such an excellent option as Dalfour?  I know and respect those cooks out there that love the preciseness of such an endeavor it's just not me.   Long story short, you won't find a recipe like that in my collection anywhere.
Some might argue that I love making breads, preserves, and pastries and they require thought.  RightO, but I've learned that with practice you become more adept at these and therefore less thought is required.

So, here you go.  A recipe we've served at many functions, weddings (mine included), art events and just round our table.  Hope you enjoy!
Recipe of the Week
  With summer time comes summer grilling! This week's recipe comes from Olga Elder from Stoney Mountain Farm.

Stoney Mountain Farm Lamb Sliders
1# Ground Lamb
1 link Italian sausage, casing removed
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or minced
¼ C grated onion
½ T cumin
½ t cinnamon
1 t fresh chopped cilantro or ¼ t coriander
1/8 -1/4 t hot pepper flakes
1-2T fresh parsley, chopped
1 egg
½ Cup oatmeal soaked in milk
S&P to taste
Feta or Chevre cheese 

Place all ingredients, except cheese, in a bowl and mix well (I use my hands).  The mix will seem wet.  Form into 1" balls, place on roasting rack or prepare for grill.  Flatten the patty gently, then press dime size ball of cheese into center.  Cover with just enough additional meat mixture that the cheese is sealed in.  Roast in 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes or starting to brown.  You can turn to broil if you like a crispier texture.  I also like to grill them.  These are also great regular burger size but the sliders are fun and trendy!
Serve in "slider" rolls now available in most groceries.  "Hawaiian Bread "Slider" rolls are a great option. I serve these with a tomato and onion relish but any one or combo of these would be great.
Experiment; there are many condiments and such that really compliment lamb!  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Our Little Orchard

Ah, our little orchard.  I knew when I first set foot on this farm I wanted to have a "little" orchard.  On a small scale an orchard is also referred to as a fruit garden and sounds more appropriate for our farm.  I love to eat fruit in every form, fresh in the flesh , pies, preserves, cobblers, in my pancakes, muffins, on yogurt or ice cream, and fresh in the flesh some more. My mouth waters at the thought of it. I am often reminded of a moment in my childhood some suggest should be embarrassing.  My grandmother placed a bowl of blueberries on the breakfast table.  Yes, a bowl.  I pulled the bowl in front of me, sure it was meant just for me and proceeded to pour a bit of milk.  With haste the SERVING bowl was snatched from my place mat.  Embarrassed, really?  I knew what was in that bowl.
Gosh, trees in my own back yard!  I can eat the fruit right from the branch it hangs from. What a treat.  Blackberries, blueberries, cherry, apple, pear, plum, persimmon, fig and even pecan are all here now.  We haven't gotten a harvest from each and every one yet.  The harvests of fruit will improve with age, the trees are still fairly young.  Our blackberries and raspberries provided gifts the first year and now there is enough fruit for me to really be challenged with options.  More then you can swallow in one sitting usually means your going to have to prepare them so that they don't go by way of the fruit flies. Plenty of jams and cobblers have been made from our berries already. In fact, as I write I have fruit macerating ...my first step for jams and preserves. I have journeyed through the preserving process so that I'm just getting comfortable.  Now I'm even making my own flavor combos.  Today, blackberry lime!  I have already taken some pictures of the process so you can be assured I'll share the recipes in an upcoming post.  I love, love, love to preserve stuff.  It feels so thrifty and respectful of the food.  There is nothing quite like popping the lid from a jar of preserved fruit or vegi's  you toiled over the year (or more) before.

  As our trees are maturing  each year we have a few more fruits, that is if we get there before the deer, crows, or Japanese beetles.  You'd be surprised how much we loose.  Last year we lost about 50 pears to dining crows.  We wait for the fruit to ripen, they don't!

The fruit we planted that I haven't mentioned is the fruit needing the most attention....peaches.  Of course it is the very fruit we planted the most of.  I have been guided so often on this farm by an idea I've dreamed about in the past, never really understanding what's involved.  Me, really, jumping into something blind....no.  Yep!  That's me.

For those who know our farm you know we're all about the no chemicals or pesticides way of doing things.  We follow organic practices with everything on our farm.   Ever tried to grow a peach tree?  Oh my is it a challenge....  Peaches are very susceptible to all sorts of pests and diseases and AFTER they were planted I heard folks say, "you can't grow a peach without spraying".  I don't know if you were paying attention but I am trying to tell you I was probably told  before I planted them but I didn't HEAR it until after.  Yep, I must admit...I wasn't listening.  Or, was it selective hearing.  Oh well, it wasn't intentional.  I just wanted peach trees and I didn't want to be discouraged.

Well here you have it.  Picked today from one of our peach trees.  They are some kind of yummy and I am some kind of proud.  For anyone who gardens you understand "the fruits of your labor" well this is truly "the fruits".   I wonder if the sweetness is at all influenced by the fact that we grew them right here in our own back yard.  Or, maybe the fruit is so sweet cause we did it against the odds?

I do know we can't take all the credit.  It's been a good year for our peaches.  The long season of cool temps kept the bugs at bay long enough that all the luscious fruit formed and ripened before the bugs got to it.  The reason we had no bugs this year I have figured out.  The real mystery, how did the deer and crows miss these beauties?  We're not complaining, just wiping the peach juice from our chins.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Hay Bale Fiasco

On a sheep farm you've gotta have hay.  We are a sheep farm.  I'm not adding this up for your benefit, I'm trying to remind myself why we have this current dilemma.  What dilemma you ask?  Well, it goes like this....
Last year we added chickens to the farm to improve our pastures, the natural way!  They're is nothing finer then chickens scratching and chickens pooping on a pasture.  I'm happy to share the science of it all but that's for another Blog topic...and another blogger!  So, having chickens it was and we have enjoyed having them.
 Having a rooster crow in the morning....every farm must, right?  Chickens produce those yummy farm fresh eggs...gotta have those too right?  And so, we did.  The real icing on the chicken addition, we'll sell those eggs and that will really add to our farms productivity, right?

All those facts became reality, except maybe one....productivity.  Again, I am not going to address all the chicken realities we've rearranged our farm for, just the most recent.

We spent a great deal of time last month putting up hay, cutting and baling and stacking ever so beautifully in the barn, Whew!  A huge task done.  The sheep will be fed this winter!  Wait, whats all that clucking I hear?  It was as if we'd sold tickets to THE chicken gathering of the century and we'd asked them to arrive earlier then the gates were opened.  I mean those gals were lined up to get in.  All in, around and over those bales they came.  They were picking at the seed heads and just enjoying the change to their environment....so I thought that's all they were doing.

 Ok, ok, I know I still haven't gotten to the point.  We sell the eggs, right?  We have a pretty standard order to deliver each week, pre sold!  That's great.  Each day we collect eggs and each Saturday we deliver them.  That's the routine.
Well I believe someone forgot to tell the hens we have a routine. Our laying boxes have become passe for the time being. The chickens have decided to lay those eggs 10 feet up on top of bales stacked so tight to the rafters we can't even see what's up there.  So, how productive is it for us to climb and hunt for our eggs each day so that we make about $40 per week?  We've had to scramble a bit to fill our orders and the saddest part according to my husband, there have been no egg consumed in our house lately.   Each chicken challenge we've faced we find a bit more chicken wisdom. We are now presented with a new challenge.  We haven't really figured out how we'll lure them back to our desired organized method of collecting but we'll figure something out.  It is my contention those hens just wanted to be sure we know....Chickens Rule!