Signs of Spring and other things…

The buckets are hung…

The sap is flowing…

Everyone is walking in mud…

The eggs are increasing…

The seeds are getting started…

The sprouting has begun…

The shedding of long hairy coats begins…

The last of the summer berries are being used up from the freezer…

The critters are exploring, and this one was BIG!

It was a very long Winter here, and although I didn’t mind it at all, I am finding the signs of Spring a very welcome site. The creek sounds like a river, the small blades of grass on the southern exposures have showed, there are rumbles of thunder and smells of wet dirt, and sun on a cool day that feels like it melts your bones from Winter. Even the giant clods of mud on my boots, they are all welcome signs that the growing season is here. It’s time to prepare gardens, time to clean up from Winter, time for baby chicks to arrive, and time to forage for Day Lily shoots and fresh Nettles. Watching our farm wake up from a long Winter slumber, is always beautiful. I guess I am just a four seasons girl. I love watching the changes.

Speaking of change, this Fall we will have a great room with a fireplace, something we have wanted for some time. I look forward to snowy days and warm fires! Hubs is doing a lot of it and wow what a difference. A few weeks ago all we had was a foundation and a mountain of dirt from the excavating. Today the mountain is gone, and the landscaping is in the works. Even the retaining walls are getting set in place. I truly don’t know anyone who works harder! I’m so in awe of all he can do! (See my starter plants glowing in the window?)

I can’t possibly make a post without a bit of food, so here is some goat cheese with red peppers and coated in last Spring’s foraged Ramps. I always like visiting the goat farm.

Then there was this. A hunter asked if he could have an opportunity for some hunting ground at our place this Spring Turkey season. He offered to help with farm chores in exchange, and brought us, on his second visit, a wild turkey breast. He recommended this way of preparing it. Our own Red Tail Hollow bacon wrapped around WI wild turkey. The man gave us a good tip here! It was delicious.

Then, last Sunday everything changed in a heart beat. When a beloved family member is hurt everything else instantly doesn’t matter! I am happy to say that Dad, the rock in my life, is recovering. At this time he is all that matters. It is such an honor and privilege to be there to help him recover. The farm will always wait for me. I never want him to have to wait for me. Family is everything.

Still a bit more Winter left…

While other people have tired of Winter, the cattle and I have not. It is the coziest time of year and gives me more time to focus on things inside the house. This includes some yearly attention to closet cleaning, clothing donations, basement organizing, tax preparations, and of course food preparation, and with Summer not that far off, it is time to reduce what’s in the freezer. This is always a hard thing to calculate, at the beginning of the Winter I am careful to not use our frozen fruit and veggies too fast, but at the end of the Winter I am trying to find ways to use it all and make room, it’s not a perfect science but the more years we do this, the more I learn about the rhythm of this cycle.

It’s been the craziest snowiest February we have had in a very long time. I visited family on the west coast, and returned in very early February. We had lost all our snow in my absence, due to a warm front and lots of rain. Upon my return the snow began and it’s been snowing on and off for the whole of February! The farm couldn’t look prettier. It has stalled our construction project, but to be expected in the Winter.

This particularly snowy day was one of our bigger snowstorms. The deer are doing more browsing now, as grazing is pretty much out of the question.

This is the pathway to the chicken’s coop and run. They don’t come out on these days. We open their door for ventilation, but they consider snow about as safe as hot lava, so when they come out and see the new layer of snow, they cluck a mouthful of complaining chatter and run straight back into the coop.

Despite the mountains of piled snow around the mini high tunnel, there is still spinach inside and it’s doing well too! When this plastic layer gets rolled back, it smells like Spring inside!

The green presents such a contrast to the brilliant white that is covering everything outside.

Crazy to think we are eating spinach salads while we are buried under snow. It is an amazing treat, there are even some surviving little dill volunteers amongst the spinach. It is all so appreciated!

I’ve been working down the freezers to make room for this Summer’s produce. This is cherry juice, (hubs enjoys mixing it with sparkling water), and next to it is chicken broth. Slowly but surely the freezer stock of veggies, fruits and soup bones is getting a bit lower.

I am really excited about being able to pressure can beans. We really didn’t used to eat that many beans, for a couple of reasons. I don’t prefer to buy food in cans, and because starting with dry beans takes a lot of planning ahead, since some have to soak as long as 8-12 hours! Now I can take these garbanzo beans off the shelf and put together a very quick batch of Hummus, and it is delicious!

Hummus and spicy refrigerator dill carrots, a great snack! The carrots are from our neighbor’s cold storage. He found himself with a broken tractor and no way to plow out his driveway to go on deliveries. Hubs went over and plowed him out and we got a big bag of carrots and some micro-greens as a trade. We have been using the carrots in salads, as well, and there are still plenty for fresh eating.

These pinto beans made perfect refried beans! Really happy to have convenient, “on the shelf” beans for adding to soups, stews, and the garbanzos, shown above, are great on a salad too!

Pickled hard boiled eggs (they are awesome) and onions, our neighbor’s micro-greens and carrots, some red pepper flakes I made last year from our Shishito peppers, and some local blue cheese.

People ask how we eat veggies this time of year if we are not buying them at the store. A visit to my freezer is all it took to make this veggie side dish. All of it is from last Summer, and it tasted fresh and delicious at dinner.

What would a post be without a picture of bread? This one was especially pretty!

The sides of the driveway are getting taller, if Spring doesn’t come soon, we may have our own luge run!

When failures turn delicious and more about bread…

Funny that someone told me the other day that they enjoyed my food blog. This intrigued me, since I never planned this to be a food blog, I guess though that a big part of homesteading (or our version of it) for me is the food end of things. Not buying much food at the store means a lot of cooking, planning, making what we have work, and doing lots of food preparation. This point is driven home in the Winter, when much more time is spent indoors, and meals need to be a bit more creative with less fresh items available. A warm belly is more important, at this time of year too, than at other times of the year, so I guess in the Wintertime, this blog does become even more food focused.

I have been creating more and different kinds of bread this Winter. I have left behind my yeast in a jar, and am working just with sourdough starter at this point. This picture above came out of a sourdough failure. The bread that I made did not cook as long as it should have, and the resulting outcome was very moist dense bread…BUT the crust was crunchy and chewy and fabulous! I ended up making pizzas on, what were basically, sourdough crust heels. I cut off the outer layer of the round loaf, which made use of the crunchy chewy crust. The pizzas were some of the best I have made! The rest of the loaf I diced and dried in the oven to be used as bread cubes for making stuffing.

Here is another “failure”, and where I learned, you cannot rush sourdough bread, or probably any bread for that matter. Here I made a nice fruited sourdough pumpkin bread and a regular loaf of sourdough. I wanted to bring them to someone’s house for dinner, and I didn’t get my timing right, so I had to rush along the rising, and the baking. These loaves were not edible as they were baked, (I kind of knew it would happen), so…I sliced them thinly and put them in the dehydrator. They turned out to be really nice crispy, snacky crackers, in fact they were good enough to try making again, if I can recreate it.

Here they are sliced and going into the dehydrator.

Drying…

Crunchy new snack food, that I broke into cracker sized pizza.

These are what my breads usually look like. One is the sourdough pumpkin bread with dried fruit in it and the other is a simple sourdough bread, great for sandwiches and toast. Getting bread to rise well in the Winter is not the same as Summer bread that rises quickly with the warm temperatures. Our wood stove is in the basement, so sometimes I bring my bread down there to rise in a warmer place!

I’ve made various cracker recipes over the last years, but keeping us stocked on them, as in not buying crackers at the store at all, meant making larger batches. Hubs loves having crackers to snack on at night, and this particular recipe, using sourdough discard, goes super quick.

I use my pasta machine to roll the dough out, and I even have a new tool, a wonderful Christmas gift, for rolling across the crackers before baking so that I don’t have to poke those little holes with a fork anymore. That and a pizza cutter to slice them really streamlines the whole process! They are easily flavored with cheese, or garlic and pepper, or sometimes just dill with a bit of salt.

These were my first sourdough pull apart dinner rolls that I served to company. They came out great, definitely, a make again recipe!

It’s been record breaking cold out for days, and Hubs went to check in on his parents and bring them a resupply of our soup, bread, eggs and these Scuffins! Scuffins are muffins where the batter came out to thick, and turned out a bit more like scones, than muffins, therefore I named them Scuffins! The blueberries from last Summer made them an especially delicious treat!

This here is a big deal! We are adding a room with a fireplace AND a root cellar below it! The circled area will be the root cellar. It will be so great to have it and the wonderful family space above with a toasty fireplace. Having a root cellar will change what we can do here with our garden. We will now be able to try and grow enough potatoes, onions, carrots and squash to last from Fall through Winter and until the next season’s food comes from the garden again. Next year we will sit around the fireplace in the Winter, I can hardly wait for that to happen. These are all exciting changes here!

Things continue to look like this outdoors, which is just fine with me, as always, I continue to enjoy the shorter days, and the “holing up” aspect of Winter, it’s my human version of hibernation.

Why did I think this was so scary and so difficult?

Here she is, my first pressure canner. I mentioned in a recent post that I had gotten one. It was something I was afraid to do for a while, for some reason it seemed complicated and dangerous and turns out it really can’t be dangerous unless you do it wrong, and since it is a super easy process it’s pretty tough to do it wrong!

Raising beef, pork and chicken, we end up with so many soup bones and they take up a huge amount of space in the freezers due to their bulkiness. When I make them into jars and jars of bone broth it helps get more space back in the freezers, but if I then freeze all the bone broth I have a space issue again. Enter the pressure canner. This pressure canner means I can make the broth shelf stable and it’s so nice to be able to pull a jar off the shelf and pour it in a pot and heat it up, rather than thaw it from the freezer. Having this on the shelf I can use it as a soup base, and make all kinds of soups from it. It’s also nice when someone is not feeling so great and there is homemade broth that can be warmed right up.

Bulk bones ready to be roasted and then go into the pot for a 36 hour simmer.

Ready for the maiden voyage.

This gigantic warning looked pretty scary, especially since it’s secured on, and you are told not to remove it!

It was totally easy, and turned out such a pretty color too.

I can see that this is only the beginning!

This day here, was what I call a “kitchen day”. I set these days aside for when I have the time to really enjoy creating. This day yielded, 14 jars of beef broth, 3 jars of beef tallow, 2 dozen sourdough English muffins, 4 quart jars of sourdough cheese crackers and one loaf of sourdough bread. I am working on my scoring, on the bread, and this one I knew did not go so well, ha ha, when Hubs asked, “is it supposed to be a smiley face?”

This is the gold. After I cooked the beef bones and put them into the soup, I scraped every bit off of the sheet pan and put it in the fridge…

After removing the fat, I had this beautifully jelled beef bouillon. I save these in the freezer to add to soups, or use in rice. It makes the flavor of everything I add it to, so much richer!

Six Years and 8 Days Ago – What have we learned?

Six years and eight days ago, I began blogging about our homesteading journey and decided to name this blog, “Incrementally Stepping Towards Homesteading”.

It’s been an incredible journey and it’s still really only the beginning. Today I am looking back. I read back to six years ago, and the things we talked about doing, did not always turn out to be what happened. Things took different shape but that was all part of learning as we went. Nope, we never raised 4 turkeys named; Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, a feast for every season, as I said we would. We also didn’t put the garden in the old goat yard, as it turned out we ended up putting 2-3 hogs a year in the old goat yard instead. Things I found out that turned out not to be easy? Selling our meat and vegetables. We are licensed to sell meat from our farm, and I thought it would be easy to get people out here, and turns out it is not, so while selling our meat didn’t go as planned, we do sell some, and the money we used to spend on meat is just not spent anymore so it’s still a win.

We learned about raising baby chicks, laying hens, roosters for meat, and how to butcher our own chickens.

We learned how to keep hogs, and feed them so they are fat but not too fat (yeah we did that one year).

Hubs had started some Shiitake mushroom logs many years ago, and we loved having fresh and dried Shiitakes so much that we have learned more and now have many, many logs going with them, and we are currently experimenting with several varieties.

We learned how to tap trees, and cook down the sap into delicious syrup…

…and in the Fall we learned how to press cider from our own apples.

My garden 5 years ago, on our first Spring, was much smaller and I am now much better at using the space to it’s maximum benefit. Hubs built an excellent fence around our garden and that really took gardening up a lot of notches. Each year I plan, and think I have it perfected, but I still, at the end of that season, am filled with ideas for the next season.

I learned how to start garden plants properly, and in fact last year I started all but just a few herbs.

I will never be able to believe how all those pounds of foods that feed us, all the rest of the year, came from those rows of tiny starter plants that I start on my plant rack! I have yet to become accomplished in the area of seed saving but it’s on my learn list. I did successfully save pepper seeds and grew those the next year, but they are easy keepers, saving some seeds are more complicated then others.

I’ve learned so much about food preservation! I had water bath canned a bit in the 80s, but had some failures, and the floating tomato and glass soup, after all that hard work, really sent me into a canning spiral. Thanks to a friend, I gave it a go again and have been canning ever since. Recently, I added something new to this area. Despite being terrified of a pressure canner, I started pressure canning, and I love it. I have always depended heavily on my freezers, we have several, but when we process animals we need more space in the freezers and my dozens of quarts of broth and other quarts of finished soups take up crazy amounts of room, and when you want to use them they of course have to thaw. Additionally keeping food in a plugged in freezer that could be stored on a shelf doesn’t make that much sense. I now have more room in the freezer, and soup on the shelf that I can open and pour into a pot to heat up, or to use as a base for other soups. When you raise animals there is never a shortage of soup bones, so there is never a shortage of bone broth and now it’s ready to use, and on the shelf! Hub’s has learned to smoke meat and also built a cold smoker which we need to break into use. His smoked meats have turned out great!

A couple years I began learning about fermenting, and about krauts, kimchi, fermented pickles, kombucha and more. This is a great way to preserve veggies. I make our Krauts and Kimchis in the Summer and they last all Winter in the fridge.

I learned about bread. Let me restate that, I have been learning about bread for 6 years, and I am still learning.

This is my most recent conquest. Unfortunately it was not as tasty as it was beautiful, but I am getting there.

Foraging for food and for learning about medicine…

A few years ago, I felt a draw to become more familiar with what we had here on the farm. As I started learning about the plants and weeds, and found out more about treasures to hunt for, it became a fascinating study. I have jars of at least 40 or more dried plants that have valuable purposes for food or health. I have not made use of all of them yet, I gather them to have them, so that I can spend winters learning about them and I have made various tinctures and salves from them. I have become an Elderberry spokesperson! Don’t say you have the sniffles around me, because I’ll end up on my Elderberry soapbox. The stuff is amazing. Oh and foraging for mushrooms, I can’t forget that. We have always done some Morel hunting, but now we successfully have found, identified and eaten, Golden Oysters, Turkey Tail, Pheasant Backs, Inky Shaggy Manes, Chicken of the Woods, and Puffballs. There are so many others to be foraged for, but this was a big jump in our mushroom foraging education.

When we began all of this, it was a bit of an off shoot from something Hubs started. He got 3 Scottish Highland Cattle 6 years ago. It’s been wonderful watching him get the rhythm of the animals, and learn to communicate with them based on their body language and they way they move. The Cattle were originally purchased to clean up all the scrub brush in our woods. Highlands are great at this, they are browsers and grazers so they clean up the grounds and the brush. When he got our bull a year later, we might have rushed into that, but in the end it turned out well, He and our 3 mamas, have produced many calves for us.

We are still developing the direction of our small beef program here yet, but in the meantime, we haven’t bought beef in years, our woods look much better, and we’ve even sold a couple of calves

We still have a long ways to go, but we haven’t bought meat or eggs at the store in years, and in fact we just don’t buy much at the store. If we don’t have what we need we often get it from local farmers around here. I do of course buy coffee, and baking essentials at the store, and dairy from local dairies as we don’t have that on the farm and of course I definitely don’t see myself making olive oil in our parts of the country, so there are always things we will buy, but it sure is not much, and I never dreamed 6 years and 8 days ago that we could have achieved this level of food sustainability.

All this learning and lifestyle change, has changed me in ways I didn’t expect. The more quiet around me, the more I need more quiet in my life. I find going to the city to be overstimulating, overly loud, and that it lacks the quiet moments I need. My trips to the city for things has been paired down to only 1 time in a month or not even, in some months. I try to get it all done so I don’t have to return too soon. There are weeks where I leave the farm only once, and I love it. Farming has also brought us closer to our community and neighbors. We enjoy trading goods and sharing knowledge. I have a friend who is wonderful about trading her forage finds and I trade her some, of mine in return. I have another friend that came out after a snowstorm to help me drag wood on a very cold day. We have neighbors we would do anything for night or day, and they would do the same for us. This lifestyle has brought me peace and comfort, and unending gratitude for being able to do what we do here. No, we are not off-grid (hoping to expand into solar this year), and no, we don’t live in a tiny house. We definitely live a modern homesteading lifestyle a hybridized version for sure but it’s our definition and it allows us to provide our food, eat close to home, know where our food comes from and be more dependent on ourselves.

It’s been amazing 6 years, and I look forward to continuing my education, everyday is another day to learn.

Early Fall

I have posted about this mini high tunnel plenty before, but there is always something new going on in there. A week ago we put the plastic over the tunnel. Nights are down to the low 30’s and days are in the low 50’s. When the sun is out though, the tunnel, with the plastic on it, can get upwards of mid 70’s and close to 80s, so it has to be watched carefully and vented to be sure things don’t cook in there! That means of course that it needs closing up as the sun goes down, and it’s hard to remember to do it, while cooking dinner and other things are on my mind.

It’s all so worth it though because I have beautiful spinach and radishes coming up in there, and so we will have salads probably till December/January when even this tiny but mighty tunnel winds down. It’s funny the spinach doesn’t die, it just stops growing in December and January, but when February rolls around and the longer days offer the tunnel more sun, it gets very warm in there and it grows while you watch it!

The radishes needed thinning the other day, so I kept the little fellas, they seemed too perfect to cast aside, so we had a radish green salad with blue cheese that night.

This is a puffball mushroom. This variety does not grow huge like the others, to my understanding. I only found one, we cooked it up, and it was very good!

Inside of the the mushroom.

The cooked puffball.

I am so happy to have soup weather again. What is a day without soup? Home canned tomato puree, and loads of dried herbs, and vegetables, and some homemade bone broth. YUM!

We have been enjoying loads of pumpkin seeds. They are a real treat. We had so many pumpkins/squashes, that we grew for the pigs. I let them have some of the seeds (as the seeds are a good natural wormer for them), but usually I take the seeds and give them the pumpkin. I saved the little pie pumpkins for pumpkin puree for breads and pies, for our Thanksgiving table.

There is a lot of Summer in these jars. I have been working hard to grow and forage more herbs and seasonings. Seeing these on the shelf, and being able to use fresh dried herbs is wonderful. I love how good they smell when I open them.

Our Fall pond. It changed a lot over the Summer, we had so much rain this year. It will never be the pond I hoped it would be, but it is still pretty and the wildlife around here loves it.

Peppers dried, powdered, pureed, fermented, sauced, candied and stuffed!

Honestly at this point the big garden is bare, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was collecting peppers by the bucketful! Those tomatoes were the very last of the last! I needed a lot of ways to use all my peppers so it went something like this…

Shishito peppers became…

…dried peppers and the dried peppers became…

…paprika! It may not have been the right variety for making Paprika but it works for me! It was a great way to use a lot of them up.

Ha, ha, still haven’t used them all up yet…there were still more! I decided to cut them and put them in a pot and just barely cover them with water. I simmered them till they were soft and strained them out. Then I put them in the blender and poured them into this ice tray.

Once frozen they went into this bag and now when making tomato soup, I can make it tomato red pepper soup very easily by tossing in a few cubes.

Then there were all the Jalapeños and my one Habanero pepper that grew all on it’s own from seed in the garden. Must have been a seed leftover from last year’s that volunteered into my garden, yielding me one pepper. That’s ok, Habaneros are too much for me! I did make a fermented pepper mix using the one Habanero and a lot of Jalapeños, and a few Shishitos, and of course garlic! It will be used for hot sauce.

When this is done fermenting, I will strain it and puree it, and then add back some of the brine it has been fermenting in, so that I get the consistency I am looking for in a hot sauce.

These pretty Jalapeños went into something called Cowboy Candy! It is a sweet spicy combination, and it is supposed to be good on sandwiches, and I am pretty sure my grandson will think it is great on most things! He was very excited to learn about cowboy candy!

Done! Most of the jars are the Cowboy Candy, but on the left is leftover syrup from it, and that can be brushed on chicken, or pork for a nice carmelization on the outside of the meat, and of course the sweet and spicy flavor will be good on it. Well so far I had taken care of the last of the Shishitos, Jalapeños, and my one Habanero, but I was still left with a handful of green bell peppers.

Stuffed peppers took care of the last of the peppers! These were stuffed with wild rice, leftover diced peppers from omelet making, garlic, dried mushrooms, cutting celery, a few cubes of my frozen pesto, dried tomato pieces, and our ground beef. I love having the wild rice here. It is a treat, and found in the more northern parts of the state, we picked some up when driving back from an up north wedding. I topped it with some local 5 year cheddar shavings and wow, it was great! We had them twice this week, and I still had enough to freeze for a dinner for us this Winter when looking for something quick and easy to serve.

That is the final part of the never ending pepper story. Time to move on to pumpkin puree, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread…. As always, enjoying the journey.