This used to be unusual, happily it is more common now.

As I drove down into this valley for a goat milk barter, I was able to spot this Eagle and capture it in a photo. It’s nice that when I drive in the country, it’s easy to stop in the middle of the road to take a picture because there usually is no one else on the road! Notice the Eagle is carrying his lunch! It is so nice to see these beautiful birds, I’d say we don’t go a whole week without seeing one. We used only see them during migratory changes, so this has been a treat!

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It’s been so ridiculously cold that soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner is fine with me, and this was some of the best Tortilla Soup I have made. A wonderful combination of chicken stock from our chickens, tomato sauce from last year’s tomatoes, and all kinds of summer veggies from the freezer. The tortillas are locally made and the cheese is made about 45 minutes away from here and is about the best Cheddar in our book! I don’t do a lot of purchasing of food these days but when I do, I love buying locally made products!

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I’ve started doubling up on my bread making, seems we are going through it more quickly, as mostly it’s soup and sandwich or soup and bread for at least one meal a day. Temperature today was a high of 3, but mostly it was below zero all day and who really wants to discuss the wind chill numbers, right?

We had some great news! Last summer when we came upon all the extra fire wood, due to the tornado by Hubby’s folks house, we thought it wouldn’t be dry till next year, and right about now, the wood chore is getting a bit old, so when hubby tried out a bit of it from one of the full wood cribs, we found out it was dry enough. It has really lessened chore time for hubby! It will be nice for him to coast for a bit!

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This is what a mirage must look like to chickens in the dead of Winter.

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Some of our neighbor’s lovely micro green flats that he delivers to restaurants are not always restaurant quality. Once his chickens have their fill of the extra trays our chickens get lucky! After they got over their initial fear of this new green object, the boldest one checked it out and then alerted the others with her “I found something great” clucks!! So nice to see them eating something green. I do throw them some sprouts I’ve been growing in the kitchen but these micro green flats are far superior.

Today the wind is howling. It’s a sunny 4 degree day, with wind chills right now at almost -20. Today will no doubt be an indoor day for me, the colder it gets the more I want to cook. Tonight, being Valentine’s Day and all, I used it as an excuse to pick up some local beef (for a change from Chicken and Pork), and so I will cook up some steaks, mashed potatoes, Italian flat beans, and some summer strawberries for dessert. Also, I think I will make a batch of Tortilla Soup. This day needs soup!

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Going out to feed the chickens today will require these! I got them at St. Vinnie’s for $2.00 and they are real sheepskin and they were NEW! When I wear them outside my hands don’t know they have left the house!!

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In the midst of this…Mom and Dad sent beautiful sunny Oranges for us from Florida. Honestly it was like the choir struck a chord when I opened the box, I swear sun rays came out of it!! It was so nice to eat these juicy delicious oranges, that I wanted them to last longer. I decided it might be fun to make orange marmalade, but apparently I would have had to use up all my delicious oranges on that, so I decided to try and make it out of a simple syrup and tiny diced orange peels with the white part trimmed off. Well, it didn’t thicken as much as I would have liked BUT when life gives you thin marmalade, make french toast syrup:) I tried it the other day and it is awesome!!

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I’d be happy eating it with a spoon…

What’s been keeping me busy lately is the Granola biz! It is going through growing pains but in a really good way. I will update when things are finalized, but it has consumed my time and brain, and although that is all good news, today I will need a change. I will be ordering seeds, planning the garden and looking at Chicken breeds, well and of course cooking. Wednesday we are going to tour someone’s chicken operation near here. We have driven by and his set up is great. He has about 15 chicken tractors lined up and moving along daily. I am looking forward to this, in hopes it will help us figure out our Chicken plan for this year.

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This is our bull Scotty, and he is the man. He feels the only good hay is the hay that can barely be reached. I guess it’s the bull version of the grass is always greener on the other side?

The kitchen is my laboratory…

I noticed today that my kitchen counter is beginning to look like a series of experiments. Currently lined up on my counter are two jars of fermenting carrots, 2 jars of fermenting kimchi and a 4 tiered stack of sprouts growing. Next to that is dough rising in a covered bowl. Additionally my pantry fridge has a large bowl with a wooden spoon laying across it and hanging from it is goat cheese draining off the last of the whey. It is my kind of laboratory and I love my lab. Here are pictures of the latest experiments…

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Spicy Fermented Carrots

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Cabbage, carrots, radish, celeriac root, in a brine, soon to be kimchi.

While this one wasn’t a cooking experiment, it is a prototype for a little soap draining dish to have my new wonderful goat milk soap in, so it will drain nicely and last a long time.

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I have to yet figure out how to keep the wood pieces together at the bottom… when finished, then I will oil them to resist water, but it’s doing what I hoped and I was pleased with it.

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Winter time redefines salad. Here is a winter salad…beauty heart radishes (purchased from a local farm, sprouts (grown in the kitchen), hard boiled eggs from our lovely ladies, and goat cheese, from a recent goat milk trade and a bit of fresh (frozen) salsa (from last summer) on top.

And about salsa… Last year I canned plenty and made freezer salsa. We liked the freezer salsa much better. It is not fresh but not cooked like canned. When it comes out of the freezer the texture is not the same as summer, but the taste is like summer. It’s nice to eat the fresh tasting salsa first before moving over to the canned later in the year.

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Another spin on the radishes and goat cheese and sprouts. A perfect snack while prepping dinner:)

Chicken dilemma…

I have been trying to figure out my chicken order for this Spring and I am doing mental gymnastics trying to figure it out. Our tiny high tunnel was a chicken tractor last year and I will be using it as a green house this Spring. After Spring when it warms up it will be lifted off the garden and become a tractor again. (After the meat birds are in the freezer it will become a tiny high tunnel again to plant cold crops in for Fall and a bit into Winter.) I would like to have more meat birds this year but am struggling with the housing aspect. Decisions need to get made though and so I will try and iron the plan out this weekend. Chicks need to be ordered, and seeds need to be started. I have always had my bartering Organic Farmer neighbor start my plants and we trade back later, but I would like to not run up the barter sheet as fast this year. I’ve not started my plants before, so time for more learning, and figuring out a growing space indoors for them.

Now, I am off for really granola deliveries and to pick up more goat milk. I’ve started saving the whey in the freezer for the Pigs this Spring:)

How granola found us goat milk!

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One day last week I received a “like” on my granola business’s Facebook page. As any curious person might, I checked how this new “like” might have found really granola. I quickly looked her up and found she has a Soap business of her own and makes goat milk soap. I had seen her nice soaps and so I “liked” her page. Then I got a Facebook message from her, and seems we know similar people and she, like I, enjoys bartering! As I have mentioned many times, dairy is the one thing we really don’t have, but until now I couldn’t seem to find anyone who could trade milk for something we had to offer. We agreed upon Friday, and I gathered jars for goat milk and granola to trade for both milk and soap.

Friday came and I wove my way down through the valley past a county park and lake, and then just a bit further and found their home. I was met in the driveway by a large dog who escorted my car down the driveway, and as I opened my door, wondering how the dog would respond, it came over to my door and sat down and looked at me. Yes, good dog. There is something about being greeted by an 80 lb dog and not knowing how it will feel about you being there, but clearly this boy was looking for pets and “atta boys”. I didn’t see anyone apart from my new friend till a little girl of about 6 came walking up the driveway toward me. I told her that I bet that I was looking for her Mama, and she smiled and with her hands in both pockets she tipped her head and said “follow me”. We got to the door and with one direction of her hand, the dog that outweighed her by 30 pounds took off directly, and around the corner to his dog entry at the back, and I was brought in to a kitchen with a hearth and fire roaring in it. Here I met my new friend and tasted goat milk like it was the first time. I am discounting the time I tried it when it tasted very “goaty”, and was told the reason I liked this was because it was so fresh! She heated water on her wood stove in the kitchen and made french press coffee and I added the goat milk which made it creamy and delicious. I was won over! I was sent off with 4 bars of beautiful soap, and two half gallons of goat milk – one fresh for drinking and one a few days old for making cheese, and I said goodbye to tiny home school girl who used words like, precarious, casually.

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The crackers turned out like biscuits, for some reason I haven’t been able to get them thin enough but the goat cheese mixed with tomato powder, basil and salt was wonderful!

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Although we do have frozen green beans, yellow beans, collards, kale, brussels sprouts, italian flat beans and broccoli in the freezer, I was craving fresh greens, and so are the chickens! I grew these sprouts for us and for them. Tonight we had a BLT spin off… No knead bread, our bacon, local radishes (huge) sliced, sprouts, mayo and well drained fresh salsa. We had a build up of eggs so I used last nights left over boiled potatoes and added hard boiled eggs, some dill relish and local onions to make potato salad, and served it with a cinnamon applesauce and local ginger brew. It was like a summer picnic!

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Here is a radish salad with spouts, after the picture I got the idea to sprinkle goat cheese over the top. Mmmmmm!

Coming up? Spring planning…..

Yep, hot buttered biscuit weather!

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It’s been super cold for a while. We are expecting some warm type temps, even mid 30s one day which sounds like a Spring-like treat for many. The focus is staying warm. Hubby is wonderful about keeping up the wood supply. He really spent so much time working on wood this summer after the tornado hit near his parents house about 40 minutes away. There were, I was told, up to maybe 100 trees down. Hubby hauled wood back here all summer and cut it up, BUT, all that wood was for next year not this year. It won’t be ready till then, so after spending all that time on wood we were sorely missing wood for this year! The good news, is that it accidentally put us one year ahead in our wood supply which is something he has always wanted! Now, though this meant that he had to go out to the woods and pull out a bunch of trees for this year. There are plenty of dead elms around here and they are so clean to carry into the house because all the bark is off of them already, and they burn very hot! This is especially helpful because we don’t do that thing we should do, and get up during the night and load more wood into the box, instead we wake up rather chilly here. We save so much on fuel by using a resource we have here. It is a lot of work for him, but he kind of enjoys it, just as the gardening and food preservation for the year are things I work hard at but also enjoy. Oddly though, there are times where it is the inverse and becomes indulgent to heat with wood, because on a super cold windy day, it isn’t bad having the house at 71, which we would never do with the furnace. Always, ups and downs to everything, right?

We do other things to combat the cold as well, like…

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eating hot biscuits and butter with…

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hot Vegetable Beef soup!!!!

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My holiday gift books from MIL and FIL came! Amazing amounts of good reading here. Starting to think about things I never thought about before… like… “When I am retired I am going to read endlessly without feeling like a SHOULD be doing something else.” I am looking forward to this, but it has not escaped me at all, that I have used “when I am retired” in a sentence. Truly, hard to believe I am at an age where this is actually becoming a thought on my radar!

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While I read or watch tv at night Veggie Chips are a great snack. These are the real veggie chips!

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Tomorrow will be a baking day. I am trying to build up a larger supply in my “warehouse”. That is what the state calls it officially, but they are actually steel cabinets, so it is quite amusing to have the inspectors out to inspect my “Warehouse Under 50,000 square feet”! The surprise on their face is priceless. I baked up this batch last Sunday, and much of it went to my cafe and restaurant type customers. Not only that, I also sent an order of 2 oz. bags out to my Grandson on the West Coast. This entrepreneurial 10 year old, is going to sell it at the PTA Coffee Table at his school. He talked to his boss and it is a go, he is splitting his profits with the PTA. Nice! He’s a super cool kid and an awesome Grandson!

I am off to go check for eggs, I have been a bit slow to get out there with the cold, and there are sometimes frozen eggs, with large crackled off bits of shell. First I will spend 10 minutes putting on the right layers, I do not like being cold and so to combat it, I wear many more layers than most people. If I don’t, I do nothing but complain, I can be honest about this, which by the way does not make me a lot of fun to be around, right?  I’m totally reminded of how long it took to get our 4 year old and infant into snowsuits to go out on a quick errand, that’s about how long it takes me…

The deep freeze is here…

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Although we are not using the furnace the numbers still show, and this is the outdoor temperature today. We have hit the deep freeze. 111 schools closed for cold weather, and it is actually a beautiful sunny day! Imagine if it wasn’t! Wind chills at -35 to -40 and the whole Midwest is feeling it hard. I would have baked granola today, but tomorrow we will actually be 10 degrees above zero so I will wait for tomorrow to trek out. Hubby kindly checked and fed the chickens who amazingly are surviving. The coop is well insulated but it is so cold it seems crazy anything could live. The cattle? They just keep eating as though there is nothing particularly different about today than any other day.

We heat the house with wood, but lately I have been heating the kitchen with bubbling soup stocks. One was a beef stock from a sale on local beef soup bones. It turned out so rich and delicious. I can’t imagine how nice it will be when we have oodles of beef soup bones in the freezer from our cattle! Then there was a poultry broth from 2 chickens and 2 turkeys, it also was super rich and delicious. After the broth was made and strained I put it back on the stove with two thighs and two legs from our Christmas bird, with all the meat still on it.

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After simmering a long time I strained it again and sorted through the meat and put it all into the crockpot with 2 jars of my bbq sauce and a jar of my salsa. It was great pulled turkey, and I served it on New Year’s Day on homemade buns, a definite hit!

On New Year’s Eve we have our major EXCEPTION! We have always eaten Seafood on New Year’s Eve and so despite our commitment to eating locally we annually make this exception, along with coffee, sugar, rum, flour, dairy and a few other things that we do buy at the store. After our delicious meal I put every single mussel shell, shrimp shell and lobster shell into a pot and simmered it into a wonderful seafood broth. It made about 10 quarts of broth, and I made one container into a corn chowder right away.

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I served it with slowly cooked bacon that caramelized nicely and sprinkled it on top, and served it with some no knead bread and local butter. Our New Year’s splurge will last us all year!

Our wonderful neighbor shared a very large squash with us in October, I got around to roasting it the other day.

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It is a very tasty squash that I can not remember the name of, it made so much that we have eaten it twice and now I think I will put it in the food processor and curry it up into some squash curry soup for tonight.

The squashes reminded me that I still had one frozen package of pumpkin puree from the a year ago last Fall, and so I decided to make a little Pumpkin Butter. We had it this morning with eggs, bacon and toast. A very fine meal on this cold day.

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Why do I forget how easy fruit butters are and how tasty they are on toast…

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…and now we have a lot of toast! I sliced and froze these, so bread making does not have to occur so often. I love my new loaf pans I received for Christmas!!

Settling into the long quiet part of Winter.

We are about to settle into what I call “the long quiet part of winter”. This is truly one of my favorite times of year, and is more so now that we have adapted to a “homesteading” style of living. Now it is even more meaningful because of the work that goes in Spring, Summer and Fall to prepare for it. It is a satisfaction that is hard to explain!

We are now on the other side of Christmas but still this side of the New Year. The last few days have been a roller coaster with 3 out of 4 of our parents either ill or walking wounded. Once again we’ve dodged a would be bullet and all parents are in various states of back on their feet. It is a time of constant change and reassessment for all of us. I see how our folks are processing it, how my sister and I are processing it as their children and how my children are processing it as grand children. I’ve even caught a glimpse of my own daughters looking to the future when Hubby and I are up there in years. It is a time of reckoning but also a time of gratefulness and overwhelming blessings.

The holiday was such a nice simple one, with daughter and boyfriend here, and calls to many who are far, we all connected and shared a special day. Our turkey I ordered from a local farm was delicious, and I think I made the best gravy I have ever made! We enjoyed our neighbors potatoes, and his carrots in the stuffing as well. The local cranberries were sweetened with Elder Syrup collected last Spring. It was nice to relax and share a holiday meal. We each opened one gift and then played some games, the evening was just right. The following morning we enjoyed 3 potfuls of coffee, omelets, bacon, toast and cherry jam. Apart from the coffee it was all raised, grown or gathered here. Presents were wonderful, useful items this year. Warm socks, warm clothes for layering, good books, tools, and for me a brand new great big stainless stockpot from all the kids! It was a great holiday.

Many of my gifts this year were homemade. I gifted pickled items, and jams, and bbq sauce, as well as of course granola from my granola business, really granola, and I knitted some gifts this year which was a first for me. My projects changed all the time. Hubby, “what are you making?”, I replied, “a blanket”. Fast forward to a month later and it getting close to Christmas… Hubby, “how is the blanket going?”, I replied, “the blanket is a scarf”. Well, it continued to morph, and somehow my scarf seemed too wide so I got the idea to purchase a pillow form and wrap it in the knitted material I had made. I made one each for the grandchildren. One of the scarves was too long so I overlapped it and it became part of the design.

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They aren’t blankets, or scarves, but the important part is the kids seemed to really like them, and I actually made something! I also am midway through knitting a whole bunch of scarves that may just be January presents for people.

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Additionally I made other fun and easy gifts for the kids in the family, in the form of a Fudge Brownie Mix and Hot Cocoa.

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Uh oh, time out… just got a call from our farmer friend and neighbor who is in need of back up for kitty bandaging. Back soon…

Kitty was a good patient and endured the bandaging with just little fuss, while at the same table my tiniest neighbor worked to complete a tiny 54 piece puzzle I had given them the day before that looks exactly like their new puppy. It’s a busy house with two kids a very senior dog, 2 cats (one wounded) and 1 new puppy. I went home and read my book afterward in my quiet house.

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Stopped to check out the stream on the way home.

Completely odd to not have snow in practically January!