Midwest Springtime

Not exactly what some areas of the country call Spring but this is ours…

IMG_9028

It’s the time of year when our very small creek gets to pretend it’s a real river! The large amounts of snow we still have continue to melt and at the warmest times of day this little creek swells it’s banks.

IMG_9033

The animals are finding actual grass! While there isn’t much that is green yet, it is still a welcome sight to see something other than snow! The bunnies are not the only ones looking for free forage…I’ve been peeking in places looking for tiny signs of green. Looking forward to collecting anything green to eat very soon, I am sure my bunny friend here is feeling the same way!

A year ago February I started “Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. When I started it I couldn’t put it down and then Spring hit and almost everything went to the wayside while the garden was planted and tended, a new calf appeared, baby chicks were cared for, and piglets were arriving. Then there was the busy summer of food processing and preservation which extended well into the Fall, which brought us to chicken harvesting time, and pigs going to market. As it became winter, my efforts turned to making many hearty meals to keep us warm, keeping the fire stoked and doing some expansion of my business, really granola. Ironically, I picked the book back up in February, a year later and finished the book all at once, again not able to put it down. I realized that we had coincidentally done much of what they did in this book. Their goal was to eat locally for a year, and ours a slightly different angle, of wanting to feed ourselves from what we could raise here, our own little animal, vegetable experiment, that yielded our own small miracle! We were watching a dvd the other night about foraging and learned things we never knew about that we have and will look for on the farm. The foraging guide explained, as he literally nibbled leaves off a branch, that all they get at the store these days is grain, beer and dairy, and I had to laugh when his wife added, “and deoderant”. I thought about this and in fact that is pretty close to what we are buying at the store, although I would add coffee to the list. Close to two years ago I went on a couponing kick, under the direct tutelage of my older daughter who is a pro. I was buying shampoo for less than a dollar and dish soap for a quarter, and I built up such a supply that cleaning items and personal care items won’t have to be bought for another year yet! It is pretty amazing and freeing to not have that always, “I’ve got to run to the store” feeling to pick up this or that several times a week, often going in for this and coming out with bags of that, just because I was there, and it was convenient. A couple of nights ago, we sat down to a delicious meal of scrambled eggs cooked with our own salsa, cottage bacon from our pigs, collards from our garden, applesauce from our wild apple trees, large slices of homemade toasted wheat bread, and a corn salad that could hardly have tasted fresher had it been summer!

IMG_9036

The thawed out cold corn mixed with red jalapeno bits, green pepper, a bit of cider vinegar and honey, and parsley tasted like summer! This all was washed down with the best apple juice ever, yep you guessed it, from our wild apple trees.

While I wasn’t trying to do an actual year long local eating experiment, I realized when I finished the book that we had done just that. This though will be a life long experiment, because I can’t go back to the old way…why? Because I can’t, because I won’t, because it’s what feels right.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’ve been asked several times what I am doing to celebrate. Well, it’s been a busy granola week, and so tomorrow will be a “me day”. I will plan my garden, order my seeds, read, knit, change the litter in the coop, put hay down in the chickens Spring-swampy wet run and plant lettuces into my hay bale cold frames. Although they were a fail in the winter, they will be good enough for the milder days of Spring. It sounds like a perfect day to me. Over the weekend we will try out a new local BBQ spot for a birthday meal with family.

All is good.

“Mud Season”

I got an interesting reply to an inquiry I made to a Co-op up north. They felt they surely would want to sell my Granola but it would be best to re-connect with them after “Mud Season” because until then no one who doesn’t have to be up there stays! This was a great answer. I marked down on my calendar to call them in May, after Mud Season.

We actually are at the edge of a pretty muddy season as well here. The driveway waffles between a skating rink, and a swimming hole depending on the day. The snow has been melting quite a bit but there was so much of it there is still plenty of snow cover yet. The driveway looked like this yesterday…

driveway

I’ve been hunting for little tiny signs of green. What these tiny signs bring is hope and thoughts of warmer days.

see green

see green2

They are all signs that Spring is definitely on the way. Another sign? Our neighbor asked for our plant list today. He has a wonderful greenhouse business and we trade his organic starter plants for Pork and sometimes some babysitting too. So tomorrow after deliveries I will figure out my plant list. We will also set up our amounts for Winter Storage shares of Potatoes, Onions, and Carrots for next year. It’s a great time of year coming. We’ve switched the clocks and it’s lighter in the evening and I love it! Just another sign of summer evenings to come.

runaway

I was out cleaning the chickens waterer and this handsome young fellow, fondly named “Runaway” by our Grandson,  came to say hello. He was quite curious about what I was doing. I’m loving this little guy’s shaggy bangs!

local lettuce

So we had a salad! This lettuce was at our local market and was grown by someone one town away from here. They are growing it using aquaponics, (water from a fish tank circulates through a grow bed where the plants are grown). I decided being that this lettuce was grown locally and fresh lettuce looked delicious I indulged and supported this new local business. It was wonderful eating a lettuce salad with some local blue cheese on it!

So I have become interested in knitting. My neighbor’s Mom is the most productive knitter ever, she makes hats in what seems to be a second and neck warmers in flash, she is amazing. This sparked my interest in homemade gifts next year. I remembered my one stitch from a girl scout badge I think but it had been forever. I decided I am knitting something for each person on my list this year, so I’m glad I decided this in March and not October, ha ha! A knit item and some home canned foods make a great gift and so I am planning ahead. I headed to a Variety Store for yarn and needles, and began practicing with small needles and fat needles and nubby yarns and smoother yarns but once I got the feel of it there was something else missing. There was no story to the yarn. Once again Craigslist to the rescue. I did a search for knitting supplies and there it was. Another FIG moment (fate is great). I found a woman who is moving to Mexico. She is a knitter, but not only that, she used to have sheep and she had so much beautiful wool from her Sheep! She was such a warm and interesting woman and this wool needed a new home. She met me in the doorway wearing a knit sweater with a rainbow of colors and it was 2 hours before we realized how long we had been talking and sorting through her wool. This wonderful woman was just another stop along the way in my journey, that started over a year ago. Since I started my business and we began our journey into homesteading I have met amazing people. This is someone I will keep up with. She is leaving to start new in Mexico and she is happy her yarns are with someone who appreciates them. As I looked around her perfectly organized tiny single flat I wondered what it will be like for her to just leave the place she lived for so long and start brand new in Mexico! I am excited for her, and am the happy owner of a lot of beautiful wool! She even fixed my three projects that were at a stand still, one with a dropped stitch, one with a crisscrossed stitch and one where I needed new yarn attached!

wool 2

wool 1

…and now my wool has a story.

Nope I’m not confused!

san marzanos

Winter has begun to get very long, and a taste of warmer days is a special treat. Now you may thing I am quite confused when you look at this above photo but these pretty San Marzano Tomatoes were actually hiding in my freezer. Once thawed, you can slip the skins off in one piece. This is the first of them that I have gotten out this winter already. Until now I’ve been using canned and frozen sauce I had made. These whole tomatoes were a last minute save at the end of the year, I just couldn’t can anymore and my neighbor said to just rinse them well, cut off the tops and freeze them. Wow, couldn’t have been easier! We have been enjoying Tomato Basil Soup, literally tomatoes pureed with an immersion blender and then a cube of last years frozen Basil. It tasted like summer so intensely I felt like I had flashbacks to Summer warmth, when I put it in my mouth.

tomatoes cooking

This is a combination of red, yellow and green tomatoes (the green tomatoes are actually ripe, they are called Aunt Ruby’s German Greens). It smelled fantastic!

tomato bisque 2

This Soup was Tomato Bisque since we had a little cream leftover from making homemade ice cream for guests last week. It was delicious! The fresh micro greens on top from the neighbor were perfect.

tomato basi garden soup

This was Tomato Basil Garden Soup with our chard and local corn, all from last season. My best friend and husband had to go out east suddenly last week for a funeral.  I left this in their fridge so they would have a hot soup when they got home. I know they both bring lunches to work, so I made them an extra big jar!

peels

After making all the tomato soups, I had a lot of tomato skins left. Each time I pare a vegetable I grab my freezer bag of bits and pieces and add on to it.

IMG_8934

This bag is my veggie broth collection bag. It is filled with onion ends, carrot peels, tomato skins mushroom stems etc. When it is full I will make veggie broth and strain it. My freezer is loaded with turkey broth, chicken broth and pork stock, and soon there will be lots of veggie broth too.

frozen tomatoes

The exciting news, is that I have sooo many more of these pretty tomatoes in my freezer!

raspberry sorbet

Now despite the frigid temperatures, a wood fire can get you warm enough to enjoy Summer Sorbet! This one is raspberry, I also recently made Peach Cherry. They taste like summer and are a great treat!

Now for a complete opposite photo, I thought I’d show just how the snow is stacking up here!

IMG_8945

Not sure if you can tell but this was taken on a county road. Since there was no one else on the road I got out and took this photo, I was trying to indicate that they snow on this road is higher than my car in places!

zoey

This Senior dog would appreciate some soft green grass and even ground one of these days! It’s been a long winter!

IMG_8957

It does continue to be very pretty though.

Last night we sat down to a beautiful roasted whole Chicken, a bowl of squash, a bowl of broccoli. Also a bowl of asparagus topped with the tiny last crunchy bits of the Jowl Bacon we opened a while back. It was all ours, every bite, and it was all delicious and comforting food. I looked at the table and couldn’t have been more proud of the changes we have made and the success we have had at feeding ourselves this year.

Mock Flock Blocks!

Finally the chickens dared to go outside, however, they were determined to not set foot in the snow, as evidenced by this picture. Eventually one did get off the plank and wondered around a bit but then they all scurried back inside to their winter home in the coop. Apparently too much coop time can make them bored and resort to naughtiness! They have taken to pecking one of the birds on the back of her neck! SO, it was time for some research. I had surely heard of this but figuring I had perfectly well adjusted birds, it wasn’t going to happen to my birds, so I never thought much about it. Well, I guess it’s been a long winter, the flock is getting a bit stir crazy and my birds are not as perfectly adjusted as I thought. The research said it could be a nutritional deficiency, boredom or too much light. We thought this one over, and I’ve been feeding them well, with Organic Layer Feed, Oyster shell grit, Organic Scratch grains and pig liver, so I think it would be tough for them to be deficient in minerals or protein. We did up the light because of the cold, and since they have no xbox to play with in there, I guess they could be bored? We read that a red light bulb is a better lighting for them, and if said pecked chicken has any wounds (which she didn’t) the red light keeps the others from seeing the wounds. Once the see blood they will act like the carnivores that they are, so we don’t want that!

IMG_8863

IMG_8886

So these are not giant cookies I’ve baked here, these are Organic Mock Flock Blocks. I’ve seen Flock Blocks at the store, and they are supposed to keep the flock busy pecking at it. It has grains, flour, molasses, and eggs in it. I proudly hung it as shown below waiting to see them excitedly exploring it.

IMG_8888

Well that is not exactly what happened. They were actually afraid of it? I took it down and tried to show them and they acted as though I was wielding a a sword and piled up in the corner waiting for certain death. So I put it back on the hanger, and left them with it. Today I will just break it up on the floor and see if it keeps them busy that way. Silly chickens.

IMG_8855

The cattle are waiting here with hopes of a new round bale. As soon as a new one goes into that round bale holder, they all stand around much like the water cooler at work, course that is a pretty old phrase, I wonder what is the water cooler of today in the work place?

In the kitchen we’ve tried some new things! I had a craving for fruit and wanted a bit of a treat. I thawed out a bag of raspberries from last summer and added a bit of liquid from my daughter’s canned giant cherries she made while living out west last year. Then I put it in the blender and poured it into the ice cream maker. Who knew knew that Sorbet was that astoundingly easy? I had never really thought about it, but it took a few seconds to make and was oooooh so good! In other new things, I made a Pork Loin Roast for company with mashed potatoes, collards, applesauce and no knead bread. It was very good. It was, however, ready before I thought so there was a scramble to get the rest of it ready quickly but after doling out a few jobs to others it came together in the end.

Now, Vegetarians and non pork eaters cover your ears because… this is about Jowl Bacon. Whoa and wow. If you think bacon is good, or you know anyone who loves bacon, then this may be shocking news but there is something better than bacon, it’s Jowl Bacon! Unbelievably good! I would definitely pick this over regular bacon. Last night we had sandwiches on lightly toasted olive oiled homemade bread with Jowl Bacon, and a thick layer of our neighbors delicious fantastic micro greens. This was eaten with a wonderful hot bowl of soup that was carefully labeled by me as, “Mama’s Soup”.

IMG_8891

We have a lot of soup makers in our family! My Mom’s soups are awesome and she’s taught us all well! We ate our delicious sandwiches with Mama’s Soup and some homemade applesauce, a perfect dinner on yet another cold night.