A Cautionary Tale

latch

 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. Life is messy, and sometimes blogging falls by the wayside.  This morning I feel like writing, because the house is quite, I have no one to talk to, and I just scared the crap out of myself.

My husband, Bart, was out till the wee hours of the morning bowfishing with our son, Kuyler, who came home to spend some time with his dad on Father’s Day.  They will be sleeping in quite late today.

I was up bright and early with the sun, and went out to do my morning chores in the barn. While I was feeding chicks and changing water in the brooder, I pulled the door closed behind me, so no chicks would get out. I stood there looking at the door feeling stunned.

I never pull the brooder door completely shut, because there’s a latch on the outside. It’s a very sturdily built cage about 4’x10′, about 6′ tall, enclosed with 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I was locked inside with 25 baby chickens!

I had no idea when the guys would be waking up. And even when they did wake up, they weren’t going to be looking for me, because I’m always off doing my own thing.  I don’t carry my cell phone around the farm with me, so it was in its usual place on my desk in my office.

I stood there in my cage, contemplating several hours keeping company with the chickens. I’m not sure I can describe those first few minutes while I was still absorbing my situation, before my head started working out possible solutions.

 

brooder

 

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of trying to kick out the hardware cloth. When Bart builds something, it doesn’t come apart easily, and the hardware cloth wasn’t simply stapled in place, but fastened with heavy-duty U nails.  Then I noticed the piece of wire I use to hold a gate shut (pictured on the right hand side of the cage).  The wire is threaded through the hardware cloth, and then wrapped around the wire of the gate. I have the gate in place to prevent the hens from trying to nest in that corner.

It took me about 10 minutes, but I was able to pull the wire through, and then use it to jimmy the outside latch.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

The moral of this story?  I’m still thinking about it.  I have looped a piece of wire through the latch, and run it inside the cage for now.

 

latch

Fire Cider – A Traditional Herbal Remedy

fire cider

 

Fire cider is a mainstay in my herbal arsenal against winter crud. I toss back a shot glass of this immune system boosting tonic every day.  On those occasions when I can tell my immune system is messing around with a bug, I tend to toss back more than one shot a day.  Made with raw vinegar, honey, and pungent herbs and spices, it’s a spicy, tangy, savory, sweet and sour concoction that’s tasty, as well as good for you.

A couple of points of interest, if you’re like me, and like more than less information (otherwise, just skip the next few paragraphs to the recipe below):

Earlier this year, the University of Nottingham in the UK published an interesting experiment. They reproduced an ancient medieval remedy containing ingredients similar to those used today in fire cider – garlic, onion, wine. Wine in medieval times tended towards the sour, acidic end, and wasn’t what we are accustomed to in modern times. The microbiologists conducting the experiment were “genuinely amazed” by the results, and many modern folk herbalists felt vindicated.

Also of interest, is an unfolding legal drama surrounding fire cider.  In a nut shell, three small business owners, all herb farmers, have been sued by Shire City Herbals over the use the name “Fire Cider”. If you read about the background of fire cider, you’ll understand why herbalists (myself and my business included) have rallied in support of the three women being sued. Back in 2004, my business was served a cease and desist over an herb I was selling as a soap making additive. Not in a financial position to be a part of a class action lawsuit taking place surrounding the herb, I quit selling it.  I’m happy to say, the class action lawsuit was won, and the name “rooibos” is now public domain.  As a long-standing traditional remedy, I hope fire cider will enjoy the same outcome.

It’s not uncommon for herbalists to add their own twist, and there seem to be as many recipes as there are herbalists. The basics we all seem to stick with are garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, vinegar, and honey. Many add hot peppers.

I’ve put a few twists of my own on the recipe.  I use my own homemade raw kombucha vinegar in place of cider vinegar. For a little brightening flavor zing I like to add lemon slices. I’m dealing with osteoarthritis, so I’ve added turmeric for its many health benefits. I also throw in two or three astragalus root slices. Astragalus is effective against viral infections, helps boost the production of white blood cells, and promotes interferon production in the body.

I don’t measure, and honestly, I don’t think it matters for a recipe like this. I tend to throw something like equal-ish amounts of the onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger into a big jar.

Fire Cider
Onion
Garlic
Horseradish root
Ginger root

Optional Ingredients:
1 or 2 cayenne or other hot peppers
1 or 2 tablespoons turmeric powder (or chopped root, if it’s available to you)
1 or 2 sliced lemons
2 or 3 astragalus root slices

Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

Peel and chop onion, garlic, horseradish, and ginger.  Place in an appropriate sized jar. I make mine in a gallon jar.  Add optional ingredients.  Add enough vinegar to cover ingredients by 3 or 4 inches.  Cover with a non-reactive lid (line metal lid with plastic wrap), and let the whole mess sit for about 4 weeks. Strain and mix the resulting liquid with honey to taste.

fire-cider

 

 

A Garden of Another Kind

 

Most years, these would just be a couple of big boxes of dirt where a couple of different women are going to plant some stuff.  However, this year they mean something special to me.  This one is located in a community garden in Utah, where my daughter-in-law, Britni, is learning to garden for the first time in her life.

 

brits-raised-bed

 

This one is located at my place in Indiana, where I will be gardening yet again, as I have been since I was Britni’s age.  Yes, I know, I need to mow my grass.  Deal with it.

 

raised bed

 

She and I both turned the soil in our cross-country gardens today, and chatted with each other online and shared pictures afterwards. We are going to be sore together as we flex muscles we haven’t used much over the winter.  Britni has been asking me gardening questions over the last couple of months, and we’ve had conversations about what we were looking at in our seed catalogs, and how to prep soil. We’ve talked about worms, compost, and how to support tomatoes in small spaces.  Neither of my boys showed any interest in my passion for growing things, and I’ve always been OK with that.  However,  it wasn’t until Britni sent me the picture of her efforts today that I realized how much I’ve always wanted to be able to share and pass on what I’ve learned over the years. So, as Britni plants her first seeds this spring, I think of what Gertrude Jekyll said, “The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies, but grows to the enduring happiness that the love of gardening gives.”

 

Dutch Baby

Dutch Baby

Yeah, I know, the internet doesn’t need another Dutch Baby recipe, but I’m doing it anyway.  I like to make a Dutch Baby for Sunday brunch, usually paired with some sort of quiche.  On this particular Sunday, it was served with fried apples and a bacon and leek quiche. As usual in the winter time, the chickens have slowed down on egg production.  However, thanks to a goose who decided to lay eggs all winter long (this is not the norm), I’ve had no shortage of eggs, and a Dutch Baby is a good way to use up some of the glut.  I’ve scaled back my recipe to serve 2-4 people, from the original recipe which was baked in my huge 12″ cast iron skillet.

Dutch Baby
3 eggs (or 1 goose egg)
1/2 cup flour
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.  Whisk eggs, flour, salt, cinnamon, milk and vanilla together. Melt butter in preheated oven in an 8-9 inch cast iron skillet, taking care not to burn the butter.  I’ve been told that it can also be baked in a baking dish, but I’ve never done it, so can’t vouch for results.  Pour batter into the pan with the butter and return to the oven.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until it has climbed the sides of the pan and the edges are browned and crisped, and the center is no longer moist.

Fill the Dutch Baby with your filling of choice.   My fried apple filling is simply sliced apples fried/softened in butter, and finished off with a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon juice, and brown sugar or maple syrup to taste.

Fillings can be sweet or savory.  I’ve been thinking about trying a cream cheese filling, and I’d also like to try some sort of herbed mushroom-green onion filling. The possibilities are limitless: caramelized onions and Swiss cheese, wilted arugula and goat cheese, avocado-tomato-cilantro. I could even see going into something a little heftier and filling it with one of my favorite meat salads (think thinly sliced lamb and greens with a cumin vinaigrette), or something chili relleno or chicken enchillada-ish. Ooo-ooo!! I just thought of something else … in the spring when I go foraging …… ramps and morels!

Baked Custard

custard

 

Thanks to a goose who decided to lay eggs out of season, custard has become a household staple this fall. I’ve been told it’s not unheard of for a goose to lay in the fall, but this girl is being ridiculous, and has been giving me two or three eggs a week since the beginning of October. So, I’ve got goose eggs, chicken eggs, and plenty of milk from my herd share.

 

sitting goose

 

Custard is one of my husband’s comfort foods, and he claims mine is the best he’s had — even better than his mom’s!  It’s pretty simple, but there are a couple of tricks.  It’s important that you know your exact oven temp (most people don’t realize their oven isn’t properly calibrated).  I use an inexpensive little oven thermometer I picked up at a hardware store.  My oven has to be set to 395 to actually reach 350.  Another trick is interpreting the “jiggle” when the custard is done.

Baked Custard
1 goose egg (or 3 chicken eggs)
3/4 cup sugar
2-3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Thoroughly combine all ingredients, making sure sugar is completely dissolved.  Pour custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve into custard cups (this ensures that you won’t have any weird unincorporated eggy spots, and guarantees a smooth, silky texture).  Place custard cups in a shallow baking pan, and pour hot water into the pan to at least 3/4 the way up the sides of the custard cups.  Bake for 28 minutes. Yup, 28 minutes in my particular oven. If I go 29 minutes, it’s overcooked.

 

custard steps

 

You may need to adjust your baking time based on your individual oven, so it really helps to learn to interpret the jiggle.

It’s very easy to over-bake custard. If it’s over-baked, instead of being silky and creamy, it will have light rubbery/eggy texture.  Also, some of the liquid will separate from the mixture, contributing a watery texture.

When you take it out, it should jiggle like loose jello, and you will swear it’s not done. Also, if you insert a knife and it comes out clean … it’s over done.  However, if you chill it in the fridge overnight, it will set up to a nice creamy consistency. Personally, I like to let it chill a good 24 hours for the best texture.  It’s amazing how many recipes on the interwebs call for baking for almost an hour, or until a knife comes out clean.  With the amount of misinformation out there, it’s no wonder so many cooks are intimidated by custard.

Sprinkle with a light grating of fresh nutmeg right before serving. And….. the custard was gone before I finished putting away my camera.

 

custard bite

Roasted Poblano & Queso Fresco Tacos

pablano-queso2

 

This was one of those lunchtime accidents. It’s going to happen again, but the next time it won’t be an accident. I was scrounging through the fridge for something for lunch, and I’m a little shy on leftovers right now.  There were some corn tortillas I made the other day, and some leftover roasted Poblano peppers.  I made a batch of queso fresco this morning, but it was still sitting in the mold under a weight.  I got into it anyway, and it crumbled, which was perfect for these impromptu tacos.  A generous bunch of cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime, and I had lunch!

It’s amazing what you can do with leftovers!  I just had to share, and now I’ve got to go back to work.

 

 

Mexican Style Pork Roast for Carnitas or Posole

Mexican pork roast

 

Today is a cool, rainy day, AND my day off, which means I’m off the hook for any outdoors work.  It’s a perfect day for cooking and puttering around the house.  By lunch time, I had already put a pork roast in the slow cooker for tonight’s dinner (which will also provide another meal for the weekend), restarted some kombucha which had gone too long and become vinegar (now I have more than half a gallon of very useful raw kombucha vinegar – I’m thinking it’s time to make more fire cider), caught up laundry, did a few website updates for the business, and started a new batch of buttermilk from a gallon of raw milk that was just beginning to sour.

Which reminds me …. I’d like to plug the co-op of which I’m a member, Fry Farms Co-Op.  If you happen to be a reader in the Ft. Wayne/Columbia City/South Whitley area, this co-op is a great source of organic pastured chicken and pork, grass-fed beef, eggs, produce, and a raw organic milk/products herdshare program. An added bonus is the prices are some of the best to be found in the area for food of this type and quality.  I’ve been very pleased with my membership.  I place my orders on their website, and pick up my orders every other Wednesday evening at their Columbia City, Raber Road drop point. They also have a couple of pickup locations in Ft. Wayne.

Getting back to the purpose of this post … my pork roast.  This is on the menu because the girls at my local Mexican grocery keep telling me how much they love a traditional Mexican soup called Posole.  They made it sound so good that I’ve decided I really must try it. I’ve done a bunch of research online, and gotten a few tips from the Mexican girls (who tell me things like, “Well, my grandmother always throws a couple of chicken feet in with the broth). I think  the soup will probably fit very well with the way I cook one meal leading to another. Tonight I’m going to use some of the shredded roast pork along with homemade tortillas for tacos, which will be dressed up with cilantro, avocado, lime, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Traditionally, recipes like this use some sort of shoulder cut roast (picnic, boston butt, pork shoulder), but I had a 3.5 pound fresh, uncured bone-in ham roast, so that’s what I used.

 

Mexican style pork

 

Mexican Style Pork Roast
Pork Roast
Large Onion, roughly chopped
Head of Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon ground cumin (freshly toasted and ground is best)
2 Teaspoons Mexican Oregano
2 Teaspoons Salt

Sear roast on medium high heat (I know, this doesn’t seal in moisture, I do it because it helps contribute to a rich broth, thanks to the Maillard reaction), and I’m going to need a nice both for the Posole I make later.

Place roast in a slow cooker, de-glaze searing pan with water, and add water to the slow cooker.  Add chopped onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, and salt.  Add hot water to cover roast (the picture above shows how much water I added).  Slow cook roast for several hours until the pork is tender and falls apart easily.  Cooking time is going to depend on your slow cooker.

For the tacos, I’ll shred some of the meat, and maybe even fry it so it’s officially carnitas –  maybe not – depends on how I’m feeling by the time I’m done making the tortillas.  The rest of the meat and broth will be saved for making the Posole this weekend.  If all goes well, I’ll post the results later.

Completely unrelated – here’s a bonus update on the goslings.  We were doing selfies in the pasture yesterday evening.  Yes, I know, I’m a goof.

 

goose selfies

 

 

First Lessons In The Pasture

watchful eye

 

The goslings are three weeks old, and today was their first full day in the pasture under the watchful eye of mom and dad. Of course there were bound to be a few firsts.  Mom schooled them in the art mud bathing.

 

mud lesson

 

Complete with mud facials.

 

face deep

 

Afterwards there were side by side bathtubs.  Somehow this makes more sense in my pasture than in Cialis commercials.

 

side by side

 

And, of course, there was nap time.

 

tuckered

Pitter Patter of Little Feet

growing

 

The Jersey Giant chicks are growing, and my very first goslings hatched out this past weekend! Pictured above is a chick at 1 day, 2 weeks, and 3 weeks.  Currently, at 3 weeks of age, the chicks have started to perch, and this time I didn’t get my hand pooped on when I took the picture.

 

JG 3 weeks

JG at 3 weeks

 

The goslings are turning out to be an unexpected experience.  I assumed that raising goslings was going to be similar to raising chicks.  Boy was I wrong!  Chicks are instinctively skittish, and afraid of anything that moves.  Although I change their water and refresh their feed a couple of times a day, the chicks freak when I get into the brooder.

The goslings, on the other hand, are extremely social and run towards anything that moves.  I decided to set their brooder box in my living room for the first few days, because they seem much more content when they can interact with me. Boy, do they talk!  Of the 6 eggs my goose sat on, only two hatched.  I let her continue to sit on them for a few more days, just to be sure, and finally called it done this morning. I candled the remaining 4, and from what I can tell, it looks like one was infertile, and never developed an embryo, and the other 3  look like they stopped developing part way through incubation and died.

This was the first gosling at about an hour or so after hatching.

 

first gosling

 

The pair hatched within 2 hours of each other, and were up walking, eating and drinking within 24 hours.

 

gosling feet

 

I took them outdoors for a quick bit of exploration in the yard this morning, and they loved it!  They are much hardier than chicks, and don’t require quite as much heat.  I’ll be moving them to a brooder out in the barn in a couple of days, and by about 6 weeks they will no longer need supplemental heat. Their markings indicate I most likely have a male and female.

 

goslings exploring

 

This little one was checking out the garlic chives that have volunteered along my sidewalk.  Very appropriate considering I name my birds after herbs.  I’m thinking of naming these two Arnica and Aralia.

 

gosling chives

Gone To The Birds!

Jersey Roo

It was a horrible, awful winter! Between historic snow accumulation and historic sub zero temperatures, the winter was hard on me, and it was hard on my chickens and geese. My husband was healing from a neck/shoulder injury for a good part of the winter, so guess who did most of the snow shoveling? I’ve never been so happy for spring to arrive!

There were a couple of unfortunate events concerning my birds this winter.  About 4 weeks ago, I went out and found that my prize Jersey Giant rooster (pictured above) had keeled over dead … just like that.  He was fine one minute, and the next he was dead.  At only about 8 months of age, he was growing very fast and was already about 15 pounds.  I’ve speculated that maybe his heart gave out.  I had spent quite a bit of money to purchase him, along with two hens, from Maria Hall back in October.  She breeds some outstanding birds, and my three chickens were not exactly cheap.  My purpose in buying the birds was to establish my own flock, and I wanted to start out with high quality birds for breeding.

With my rooster gone, and no broody hens to sit on eggs, I rushed the freshest eggs that I had on hand to a friend who agreed to incubate them for me.  My hope was that we might be able to hatch out at least one rooster, so I wouldn’t have to shuck out another $150 to get a replacement. Three weeks later, we got lucky, and 10 eggs hatched out. Here’s one of the little guys within 24 hours of hatching out.

JG chick

And here’s a shot that I took today, the end of week 1.  If you look closely you can see the first little feathers at the very tips of the wings. Before you start over-romanticizing how cute and fuzzy he is, I’ll have you know he pooped on my hand twice while I was trying to take his picture!

jg chick 1 week

The other unfortunate event, which happened on Valentine’s Day,  involved my gander. I don’t know how it happened, but I went out one day and found him just sitting with a deep laceration across the top of his head.  I was sure he was a goner, but a great local vet patched him up and he survived.  Unfortunately, he’s now blind in one eye, but he’s adapted very well, and it doesn’t seem to be causing him a problem.  And, he felt good enough to father children.  His mate is sitting on 6 eggs which are due to hatch in exactly 2 weeks.

sitting goose 2

She’s so pretty I’ve just got to give you one more picture. I’d say newly hatched chicks and goslings on the way is a pretty good way to greet the new spring, wouldn’t you?

sitting goose