Taking Stock

We are getting to that time of year where I am taking stock in the freezers. What we used too quickly becomes a note for next year. What we have used slower is for one of two reasons, one being that I was worried we would use it too fast and I didn’t gauge it right, and the other reason because sometimes there are things that are less easy to come up with ideas for cooking. These are mostly cuts of meat I am unfamiliar with cooking, and for those items I get out cookbooks, or check in with some websites that are go to pages for me when needed.

This, freezer find, was our very last bag of whole tomatoes from last year, and with it I also brought in, from the freezer, a few pounds of ground beef, leaving us with just 2 lbs left! We will see ground beef again in the early Summer when our steer gets processed. We will be eating pork and chicken till then. These tomatoes became delicious pasta sauce, which now is in the freezer in containers and will become “convenience food”, for a quick dinner.

Also in the kitchen…

As I took stock on the freezer I found these turkey necks and of course put up a huge pot of them. In this case, taking stock, lead to making stock! They were given to me by a turkey farmer a couple miles away from here. I bought a turkey from him, last Fall, and apparently he doesn’t have enough customers for turkey necks because he sent me home with about 8-10 pounds of necks for free! These, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are like gold to me, just like my Mama taught me they were. This giant pot is filled about 2/3 of the way up with turkey necks, and then covered with water. They have been simmering since yesterday noon and will continue to do so till tonight or possibly tomorrow morning. Good thing I reorganized the freezers, I will be putting a lot of containers of broth in them.

My plant starts are going great! I made a bit of a rookie mistake by starting too many, but as it turns out, I will be able to sell/trade many of them. I started with 2-3 seeds in each compartment of the seed tray figuring that they wouldn’t all germinate, but they did! I pulled them out and separated them thinking that I would lose some while I pulled them apart. I tried hard to not tear their little roots up, when I divided them, and again they all made it! I will be able to sell many of these tomatoes starts, and the money made on them will pay for all my seeds. Can’t really beat that!

These are just the re-potted ones I separated, I have many more to separate today, as well as re-potting my red and green cabbages. Once again taking stock and trying to figure out what is enough for us and what is for sale.

Despite our crazy snowy weather, followed by nice weather, followed by snowy weather, these tenacious little Chives presented themselves in time for a plate of scrambled eggs and chives this morning. There is not much green out there yet, but little bits are appearing quickly. We should have Spring green colored grass by next week, it’s so close.

These were gathered on a walk yesterday. It was a beautiful warm day, and the Cottonwood buds are maybe not perfectly ready but very close, close enough to use, and I will gather more this week when they swell further, but before they show leaves. The buds are resinous, quite sticky and have an interesting, in a good way, smell to them. Cottonwood buds can be made into a salve to alleviate sore muscles. I have never made it before but it is said to be very effective, and can be bought commercially online. I am excited to make this and see how it works for me. It is also referred to as Balm of Gilead.

Here are the buds in Olive Oil, sitting in the sun, doing their thing. Once they have sat for enough time, I will strain it and mix it in the proper proportion with beeswax and coconut oil to make it a soft enough salve to rub on the skin. It might be nice after a long day of gardening or food processing this Summer.

Although I mostly write about farm and food, we are about more than that here. We are family, farm and food, although with much of our family spread out around the country, we don’t often have large groups around the table. Recently though, we had reason to celebrate a special occasion here. It was a warm and wonderful feeling seeing so many people around our table enjoying each other. The Currier and Ives dishes, I have enjoyed collecting from second hand stores, made the table quite pretty.

Between Seasons

Currently it is snowing and underneath the snow is a fine layer of ice. No April fool’s day, its the 3rd, this is just plain old Midwestern Springtime. A day ago I was collecting sap and it was running well, and today I was doing the winter thing, making soup and hot buns to have for dinner.

The cattle are happy in any weather and they have been mugging for the camera. This little fellow is Splash, and below is his Dad, Scotty, everyone has been soaking up the sunshine that we had so much of last week.

This time of year there is little green for the chickens to find to eat. We are looking forward to Spring and Summer, when the birds will start out on grass and we will have nice orange egg yolks again. This day though I got the lucky text from my neighbor who farms micro greens. Often he has trays of the them that are not usable, either because he cut what he needed or they got too tall etc. He filled the back of my car with trays for the birds, and I left him with eggs. The birds were thrilled, and my kind neighbor was happy with the eggs.

This picture goes under the category of…sometimes you need more help. You reach a point in life where you want to keep doing what you are doing but you find it getting harder to do. That is when it is time to upgrade tools so the machines can do the harder work. This new unit will make hubs jobs infinitely easier. Looking forward to my driving lessons when things warm up.

And speaking of getting older…we go through so much of this golden broth!! We are firm believers in the benefits of bone broth for the joints, and so I make this much about every couple of weeks. I make it mostly from our stewing birds we have in the freezer. It is such rich and delicious broth! I know I have mentioned this before but it’s become an integral part of our routines, and so it continues to pop up in my posts.

Each year we hope to learn a few new things to add to our list of homestead skills. This year we expanded into smoking meat. We have so far smoked delicious ribs a few times, brats, pork hocks, that were great in split pea soup, and even a side of salmon from a local who fishes in Alaska. This past weekend though we went for the biggie. We pulled out the two pork bellies we had been scratching our heads about how to properly prepare. We had great guidance from someone with experience, and he coached us well.

Ready for the cure….

I rubbed the cure on the bellies. Then they went into the fridge for 5 days.

Day 5 they got rinsed and then put in the fridge to dry for a couple of hours. It was then smoked for 2 hours.

… and here is our uncooked bacon after it’s been smoked. It turned out really well. We enjoyed every bite. We have some tweaks to do to lower the salt a bit in it, but we are very satisfied with it! A new skill learned!

As the season struggles to show off it’s true colors, I found myself poking in places just to see a sign! Here it was, a sign of encouragement from my Rhubarb, showing me it has full faith in the season! Looking forward to rhubarb crisp already!

This will all look so different in just a matter of weeks!

Alone Time

A while back hubs was out of town for 2 weeks. I have had a week out here myself, but this was probably the longest I’ve lived alone since I was just out of college and had my first apartment! I do well alone, so that was not any problem. It was warm when he left and we had no snow, much to my disappointment.

I developed my routines… start coffee perking on the stove, start a fire in the house, go out and check on the cattle, let the chickens out and then inside to my coffee. This all went pretty easily. The third day I woke up to a beautiful and wonderful snowstorm and it literally snowed some almost everyday of the rest of those two weeks. Some days 8 inches, some days 2 but it just kept snowing! It got cold enough for wind chills of -25 at night. I was thrilled with the snow and cold, but it definitely changed my routine up a few notches. What Hubs forgot when he told me, you probably won’t need to start a fire in the workshop, while I am gone, was that he is used to starting a small fire out there routinely to take the chill off the shop, enough so that it stays generally warmer in there since it gets a bit warmed each day. I quickly realized when the cold weather hit that I was going to have to be building fires everyday out there and would have to keep them going to protect the plumbing.  The wood he left me well set with, was behind the house and I had to get wood to the shop and the snow was deep. I was making 4 trips a day with an old metal sledding saucer to get it there. I surely could do it, but as the snow got deeper it got harder and it was time to ask for a hand from a friend. He came the next day, cheerful and ready to go, with two toboggans! It was beautiful out, the sky was brilliant blue, the sun was shining and he made the work more fun and oooooh so much faster and efficient. We enjoyed the weather, the company, and some fun on the job. He left with some “thank you pork” and I was left with a giant pile of wood in the shop, making the rest of my time alone much easier. Helping friends out, and trading skills and goods are things we both enjoy. It’s a pretty common way of doing things where we live.

Wood for the wood stove in the basement. I made things far easier by putting this basket on a dolly. I loaded at the back door and rolled it to the basement stairs. Always, always looking for a few back saving tricks!

I got a fair amount of work done on my blanket, for our bed, while he was gone. These are strips that I will put together when done. I am working on another wide strip now and then one more narrow one and it will be completed. My time while he was away was very precious, to be alone with myself for periods of time, is important. He gets his alone time too, when I go out of town. We both have our own things we like about it.

I worked on several craft projects, and finally watched the Nikon School DVDs and am armed with new knowledge for using my SLR camera. I’ve used it plenty, but sadly all on auto. It is time for turn off the auto feature and take pictures without training wheels! I tried out my, new to me, sewing machine, and I tried new recipes, read and planned for gardens, chickens, mushrooms, and learned about new things to try that I haven’t grown yet. I even got a cow unstuck from a feeder by myself. I studied more about Spring edibles that will come up soon, and I ate 2 meals a day, most days, about mid morning and late afternoon and that was a perfect schedule. I needed nothing from the store, I just ate from our stored foods, although I did buy plenty of milk and coffee before I settled into my hibernation on the farm. In fact I didn’t leave for 9 days, and even that was grudgingly done, being on the farm is such a happy place to be, it makes it hard to find good reasons to leave sometimes! All in all my alone time was restorative and fun. Having said all this, I sure was happy to see him come home, it’s a loooooong time to be apart!

I’ve discovered a good Rye bread recipe. It tastes great and it is the recipe I have been relying on a lot lately. It is a dough that can be refrigerated and so I make a large batch and then make small loaves every other day. It is fresher for us this way, and we don’t eat a lot of bread so a small loaf is just about right. These were gift loaves and so they were larger.

Meet Fidibus! Hubs gave me something for Christmas that I have really wanted! It took a lot of research. This is a grain mill, so I can now grind my own flour. I really looked at that beautiful Country Mill manual grain mill. If I were 20 years younger I would have picked that one, but I just don’t have the shoulders for it at this point, and sometimes you just have call it, and this was the mill for me. This, of course, was the gateway to other thoughts, and I am now researching small scale grain growing. In the meantime though, I got wheat berries from a local organic grain supplier and my store bought flour is just about gone, and so my journey with home milling local grain begins. It’s a German made mill and is beautifully made, it grinds fine pastry flour and course grains for other uses. I’m not sure why it is called Fidibus, I assume it is a German word or name, but I like it.

The tiny-but-mighty-greenhouse, keeps on trucking! It made it all through the Winter! A fresh spinach salad in the Winter is quite a treat!

This little bowl/cup is from a local artist. I fell in love with it’s simplicity, and I do love my coffee.

I end so many of my entries with a sunset, but they are always new ones and they never look the same. I look forward to the show each night.

Winter Broth

Winter took forever to show itself, and now it has, which is wonderful, the correlating flu season, is not wonderful and it seems to be hitting hard, so far still safe! Bone broth and Elderberry, and staying out of crowds is my game plan. This broth came from an amazingly delicious locally raised turkey. When I walked up with the farmer to get the turkeys out of his barn freezers, he said, “you want some turkey necks”? I guess many people say no to this, but to me he said do you want some gold? “How much”, I asked? He said, “just take them, I don’t know what to do with them all”. I walked away with my 2 local turkeys and a mammoth bag of turkey necks which, when raised by my Mama, means SOUP! I was very excited about the prospect of so much bone broth. These jars were turkey broth from our yummy bird. I still have oodles of broth to make from the turkey necks!

The drive into our farm has changed so much over the years. These trees, 21 years ago, were like sticks, they were so little, being a girl from the suburbs, I had no idea that those tiny “sticks” would fill in so nicely in just 21 years, totally changed the landscape and for the better! He has vision, that I just don’t have because he grew up in this life, and I learn so much from him.

This was taken prior to, what really was just our second good snow all year. Hubs left me well set with wood, to keep the house warm, before he went off to help his folks for a while.

So…I am doing a bit of flying solo, while Hubs is gone. Ironically we finally got a snowy month, and it started the day after he departed!  Since it wasn’t too windy, my flannel sheet covering the wood pile helped a lot, I just shake the snow off it when I go out to restock the supply for the fire in the house. Very nice to see dry wood underneath.

Then this happened. It takes just the right type of snow for this to happen, but the net over the chicken run filled with so much snow that it was hanging to about 4 feet off the ground. I needed a hat and two hoods for this job or else it would all go down my jacket, not what I wanted! I used our wide snow shovel upside down and just kept bouncing it till it all came off, I’m pretty sure I accumulated about 4 inches of snow on my hood, but the job was done, and I am hoping this next snow coming might be a different variety of snow flakes that don’t stick again! This goes in the category of, “sometimes when you wake up you just don’t know what you may be doing that day”. Jumping up and down with an upside down shovel dumping snow on my head, was not really on my radar when I woke up that morning.

This is our road, almost to our house, I couldn’t be happier to see Winter in all it’s finery, I thought it might never happen this year, however, seems that February is going to try and make up for our January lackluster snowfall. This makes me a pretty happy camper. Planning a garden, when it doesn’t even remotely look like Winter, is a big disappointment, but February pulled through and garden planning is happening. This year the garden plan is to focus on the fences, and grow all I can on the fences so I maximize actual garden space! Cucumbers, and Tomatoes, two things that really take up a lot of space will all be grown on the garden fences, which are made of cattle panels. We will just attach another panel higher up on the tomato side so we can adequately trellis them. I am now working on balance out there, last year there were things I had too much of, and things I couldn’t fit and wished I could, so garden planning is taking a new direction this year, more on this soon.

Today I am looking forward to a visit from my Sister. We are truly the story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. I love visiting her condo, in the sky in Chicago, it is spectacular. She loves visiting our big farm and doing the country thing. It’s a special time for us when we have time together, just two Sisters together on a snowy weekend, of course I have plenty of soup for us:)

Enjoying Winter, every morsel!

Family Christmas on the Farm and it finally looks like Winter!

My daughter and I were, on December 23rd,  lamenting that there was no snow for Christmas. None in the forecast, and nothing on the ground. It mostly looked like October. I woke up the day of Christmas Eve, and couldn’t believe it! We did not have a lot of snow, but enough to make it look like Winter which I was so missing! It finally felt like Winter holiday season.

I wanted to finish this weaving for our holidays, and literally got it done on Christmas Eve in time for our gathering the next day here. I really enjoy these weavings, I usually take my time but this time I was working on a deadline to get it done. Very pleased at how it turned out!

The house smelled wonderful filled with Pumpkin bread and…

…fresh bread for the table, and for breakfast the next morning.

 

I was able to serve a spinach salad from our tunnel garden and roasted carrots and parsnips as well. It was exciting to see the tunnel hanging in there this late in to the cold months. Since then it’s gotten to be well below zero, day after day. I have not checked the tunnel, but am not holding huge hope of my Spinach still being there at this point. The tunnel does do a great job, but subzero is subzero, and it’s pretty tough to be a spinach plant in that!

Had fun baking with our in town daughter over the holidays. These rosettes were delicious and the pie couldn’t have been better. I am not a good crust maker but with my daughter cheering me on, I actually made a great crust, and she made awesome filling! It was topped off with homemade cinnamon vanilla ice cream.

It was a lovely holiday with family.

The chickens are now in their Winter digs. They will stay in here till Spring when we will turn them out so they can free range. We wait till the Spring when the birds are 1 year old to range them, they seem to easily learn at this point where there home is and to come back to it, but for now they are cozy with an insulated coop and a covered run for safety from predators. Since the snow fell, they have pretty much refused to come out. They act like snow is hot lava and must not be touched. Oh well, can’t blame them with a cozy coop to stay in, I haven’t ventured out much either the last few days. Hubby goes out to check on the cattle daily and has kindly been watering the birds and feeding them as long as he is out.

Pig day came and went very well. The mobile slaughter unit came and did a wonderful job. Today we are picking up our pork, and will celebrate with bacon in the morning tomorrow. It is so nice to not have to transport the pigs and make their last day on this planet a terrifying day. These pigs last day was calm and quiet. They were gone in one second with the electrical kill that they use. Absolutely instantaneous, and they didn’t know what was coming. They were also feeling pretty chill after being fed some feed with beer in it the hour before the unit arrived. These guys do a great job, and we are thrilled with the service they provide.

Now it is my favorite time of year. The quiet months of Winter and short days, no festivities or holidays, just appreciating Winter’s wild beauty.

This is a very favorite Winter activity for me. I look forward to this quiet time in January to study over seed catalogs and think and dream about plans and ideas for next year’s garden.

Elderberry everything, and an accidental FB cow sale!

The Elderberries we put in three years ago have been a great addition to the farm. Not only do they smell wonderful in June, but they have so many uses. Since some of the branches hang over very low, I use those for gathering the flowers. Once these low clusters begin to fruit they would end up on the ground with the added weight. The rest of the beautiful, flowering clusters are left to become berries. Elderflower tea has many healthy benefits, and one of my goals this year was to gather more plants for Winter time tea. My pantry now has a new section, and in it are many types of herbs I grew and also foraged for over the course of late Spring, Summer and Fall.

This was gathered and dried last June.

This is an elderberry liqueur. First I made an Elderberry Tincture, using Elderberry and Vodka, knowing some of it would be used as a tincture, and then the rest, with the addition of sugar and time, became Elderberry Liqueur. The berries were picked in August, when I made the tincture, and in October I started the Liqueur which was ready at the end of November. I will, and have, use some of these as gifts.

This is Elderberry Syrup, that can be added to sweeten tea, when a cold is coming on, and throughout the cold. It offers vitamin C, an antioxidant punch and helps to strengthen the immune system.

 

Right now I am starting to have flashbacks to the movie, Forest Gump, here. You know, the many ways to prepare shrimp, according to Bubba. Well, that aside, this is another way I use Elderberry. I keep berries in the freezer and just toss some into my kombucha for the second ferment, and I have enough frozen elderberry to last all year.

This last batch of Kombucha (2nd ferment or “2f”) turned out quite pretty.

Outside things are getting pretty quiet, but we had an interesting cow sale right after Thanksgiving.

This is Maggie and she has a new home.

We were needing to move Maggie off the farm and were were not finding a buyer for her locally. We didn’t want her Papa mating with her in the upcoming months and so we were facing no choice but to use her as beef. I posted, on a homesteading FB page, that I was wondering if we would want to do the butchering differently because of her size, and was hoping for some guidance. I thought maybe people would have different recommendations for the cut sheet since she wasn’t full grown. THEN, someone posted a comment that they would like to buy her! This person lives in Missouri, and well, there is always the concern that you don’t know them, and will they show up and follow through with the deal. Well yes they did! They were here on time, and were very kind people who were very excited to take our Maggie home with them. The loading went perfectly and they were off. It was amazing how it all worked out!

In other outdoor news, although the garden is long gone, I did get in a few last Fall tastes before it was completely over…

These are fried green tomatoes, made from the last batch of green tomatoes that came in from the garden. They were delicious!

Also with the last batch I made some salsa verde. I will definitely make this again!

The mini high tunnel is still providing us a limited, but greatly enjoyed, variety of vegetables. The picture below shows what I brought in yesterday.

Parsnips, carrots and spinach. The eggs just got into the picture since they came in, in my bucket!

This photo was about a day. A pumpkin baking – chicken broth making – kombucha bottling – bread baking day, but it was more than that. Since selling my small granola business, I am finding that there is even more joy, in cooking and processing food, now that I am not in a hurry when I cook or bake. I am able to take more time with the process. In my previous life, if you will, it was about being efficient of time, because there were so many things to do with jobs, a house and kids. Now the time I take, which in the past I would have thought to be inefficient, I see and feel differently. I am seeing a lot of things differently as I am getting older, and entering a new phase of life. I am loving having the time to feel and enjoy the processes, of everything I do. We hear a phrase often these days, that comes from the recent popular book by Marie Kondo. The phrase is, “does it give me joy?” She is referring, of course, to more tangible items, but in general, there is something so peaceful about finding what gives you joy and fills you up. Not sure when the “golden years” start but this time of life is golden already. The children are off and doing well, and we find ourselves alone together on this farm a lot. It absolutely gives us joy and I feel grateful everyday, and to be honest, I’d say many, times in a day.

Topping off the day, was an absolutely stunning sunset.

The even more amazing thing was that we had another showstopper of a sunset the next night!

His first hunt and we learned so much…

He has waffled over deer hunting for years but decided this was the year that he would go on his first hunt. He went out early in the morning and later in the afternoon the first two days, the first of which was in rain and wind and the second was pretty chilly. The third morning I heard a shot at 7am and it was close enough that I knew it was him. He came up to let me know, and despite my stubborn desire to want that first hot cup of coffee that was ready, I wanted to be there to support him and help as needed. He harvested a beautiful Buck. He worked hard to gut it, as it seems no matter how many YouTube videos you watch, it’s quite a bit different in person. It will surely be easier next time. We loaded it into the truck and brought it to our DNR station to register it, and so that they could get a sample of the deer to test it for CWD. We are unfortunately in a CWD zone. (Definition from the WI DNR shown below.) Then we hung it in the barn. This was not a young buck so we knew we wanted to let it hang for a bit. (NOTE: gloves were worn in all contacts with the animal)

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first found in Wisconsin’s wild deer in 2002. It is a 100% fatal disease that causes brain degeneration in deer, elk and moose. Like other prion diseases, CWD can have an incubation period of over a year and clinical symptoms develop slowly. There is currently no known cure.

After arming ourselves with hours of YouTube videos on butchering we were prepped for it. We were very fortunate to have our future son-in-law and our daughter helping, he has butchering experience so we were learning from him, and we all had jobs. The work went quicker than we thought it would.

We have experienced seeing our meat, we have raised in the freezer, both the pork and beef that go to the butcher and the chickens that we raise and butcher ourselves. This was different. I didn’t realize when I looked in the freezer, the reaction I would have. Harvesting wild meat from our own land. This was a big step.

Per instructions none of the meat gets consumed until the test results come back and after waiting for 9 days we found out this deer was positive for CWD. This was hugely disappointing news. All the meat had to get disposed of and the carcass was dropped at the DNR site.

I had so many different feelings over this. I felt terrible that the deer lost it’s life without getting to nourish another life, which is what should have happened. I felt like it was disrespectful to not honor this gift by using every part of it. Then I thought about how that deer would have passed the disease to other deer and that it was better for the herd. I thought about all that we learned, from gutting to hanging to butchering. We will always remember this first deer, not for the fact that it was CWD positive, but because this deer gave us the opportunity for an education. Next time, because of this buck, we will have much more knowledge about processing. It may not have turned out as we hoped it would, but it was a very important learning experience in many ways.