Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Fever...

Spring fever is catching here on the farm. So many new and exciting additions to our little world.

Last weekend was a tough and glorious weekend. We began building the new garden shed/chicken coop. We completed the floor and and framed the walls up. They are sided and in the coming weekend we will begin to frame the trusses and get the roof on. Then painting and shingling. We had some great assistance from our friend Toby. Nice trade. A days work for homemade cheddar biscuit egg sandwiches for breakfast and chili for lunch. I love love love feeding folks.

The shed, my garden shed, will be a great addition. The entrance faces the garden and keeps my tools close by instead of an acre away. There will be windows in both the shed part and the coop. Two to the south, framing the mountains, and two to the north facing the house and driveway.

The chicks have become unruly and gangly teenagers. And as teens they are anxious to spread their wings and check out the world. It will take a few more feathers in this cold before they can do that. It has been cold and snowing. Welcome to March. They will feel like they are living in the Taj Mahal after their early stint in a reclaimed dog kennel.

We had some losses. Two of the little Egyptian chicks got trampled by their two week older counterparts. Then, our hens killed one of the hens from our friends. They are bunking here until they move into their new home. Introducing new hens doesn't always go over big. While the picture books show docile and quaint visions of hens, they can be brutal stone cold killers. All our efforts for making the incorporation go smoothly didn't work out so well once we went to work for the day and couldn't keep an eye on the prison yard. I may have mentioned before that J uses gangland and prison terms when describing the hen yard. Amusing typically. But not when one of your guests gets shanked.
The final loss was my favorite guinea. She was out exploring the yard when J let the dogs out. We had their training collars, but that was futile. J had to put the bird down and walked it across the field to a hedgerow ditch to complete the circle of life with the coyotes. Needless to say by Sunday eve I was a little over the whole animal kingdom drama. But, this is life on the farm. Not always pastoral and peaceful. Sometimes it is dirty and raw. And even so, would not change a second of it. I only hope I get better at preventing the mishaps I can.

Also in the news, I am the new blogger for A regional blog that explores growers and producers and markets for the area. I am thrilled. And happy for the experience this blog has given me. I will continue to do both. As this is my personal journey and the other blog I will be observer and sharer of information. Huge step toward building the life I want to. Which is all farm all the time. Whether mine or working with others in some form or fashion.

Now, time to check the status on today's launch post. Go FOCO!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lighter Days Ahead...

I am thankful for the instant gratification of longer days. Yesterday it was still light some at 7 o'clock. P.M. that is. I know the hens are thankful too. They have been cackling alongside the guinea's all day. I am getting more eggs more frequently too. All signs of longer days.
J and I have been talking more about working less. We both have some pretty heavy jobs. They tend to take up more room than a standard workweek calls for. And while we are grateful for the financial security and the dreams it has allowed us to reach for, our sanity and health are calling for some balance. A little less working and a little more living.
I don't necessarily see what we do in building the farm up as work. J might disagree. He is the heavy hitter of the two of us. But there is a certain grace and peace working around the farm and watching it morph from our shared vision. The longer days come with unbounded inspiration. Over the weekend we drew up plans for the new coop/garden shed and created the shopping list for it. Building will start soon, as the chicks are feathering out fast and will outgrow their brooder quickly.
Speaking of chicks, we had a bit of drama this week, resulting in a couple (5) losses. Monday night I came home and took care of the dogs, made dinner, and went to put the hens away and check on the little bits in the barn. J came home as I was outside. He went in to check on dinner after an extra long day. I came in with quivering lip and crocodile tears exclaiming that all the chicks were dead. The bulb in the heat lamp burned out sometime during the day. While the barn is insulated, it is not heated. They were all lumped in a pile. And of course, the lock to the shed with all my supplies was broken and we couldn't get it open. Luckily my flair for the dramatic proved false. The chicks on the bottom of the pile didn't fair so well. So out of 28 small chicks and keets, four didn't make it. One more casualty was found in the am. J, who was also very sick, got up in the morning to check before I woke and to remove the poor little thing. Again, the hardest thing is when something suffers from my learning curve or error. Definitely a teaching moment to keep track of the hours of use with the bulbs.

In response we brought the brooder into the house and put a 100 watt bulb on them. The remaining birds did great and are thriving. The dogs however, became somewhat obsessed with this large peeping box in the living room. Other than the bedroom, where the dogs co-reside with us, we do not have a door in the house that totally closes shut. Therefore, the brooder in the house 100% of the time doesn't work so well. Especially for the dogs. Who like to pounce on anything that moves.

So, I spent the week hovering and getting new bulbs and putting the chicks back in the barn and then, went to the store and got six more. Egyptian Fayoumis and Blue Laced Red Wyandottes.

Now, it is my turn to be sick. J and I also made a deal to eat for 30 days only what we make ourselves in an effort to cut down on fast food or restaurant food and get healthier for the months (and years) ahead.

I started by making one of my favorite breakfast foods. Kasha pudding, from a recipe from one of my all-time favorite restaurants (sadly closed for many years now) back east, Curtis and Schwartz Cafe. I love warm and spicy so I adapted the recipe some from their cookbook. It is a hearty bread like pudding with fruit and nuts. Perfect topped with greek yogurt (honey flavored or drizzled in is the best). The restaurant used to add a dollop of creme fraiche on top. Mmmm.

I can't follow a recipe truly to save my life. I always have to mix it up. So I added my additions in the recipe below.

4 1/2 C. milk - I warmed the milk with dried chai spices first to add more warmth
3/4 C. Kasha (buckwheat groats) - I always add a touch more
2 tbl. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger - I also add 3-4 diced cubes of crystallized ginger
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt - I always cook with sea salt
2 Granny Smith apples - I mix this up often. This week I used a honeycrisp apple and an asian pear
3/4 C. dark raisins - I prefer dried cranberries or cherries
3 tbl. unsalted butter
3 eggs beaten

For the topping:
2 C. chopped walnuts (or pecans or other yummy nuts)
1/4 C. brown sugar

I don't have a picture of the final cooked version. We dove into this bad boy way too quick when it was done.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • If using chai spices, warm on low/medium heat first and then strain milk before adding other ingredients. Don't let the milk boil. We just want to infuse it with the chai spices. Using store bought chai to replace the milk would be too strong a flavor.
  • After milk is strained, return it to the pot and add the kasha, sugar, spices and salt.
  • Stir occasionally and bring to a soft boil over medium heat and simmer for one minute. Then remove from heat. Keep close watch. I have boiled over the milk turning my attention away for a minute. Not good and a wicked mess to clean.
  • Add diced fruit and butter to the pudding.
  • Temper the eggs. Do this by whisking a cup of the pudding to the beaten eggs. Then slowly whisk the egg mix back into the rest of the pudding.
  • Pour the pudding into a buttered two quart casserole.
  • Combine the nuts and remaining brown sugar and sprinkle on the top.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is firm. If the nuts are browning too much cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Serve warm with a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche.
Way better than oatmeal.