Saturday, December 27, 2008

Birds In Winter

We feed our birds year round. The late spring days begin at early dawn with the songs of intensely colored birds.The Goldfinches other worldly yellow color is at its peak. As the days shorten,their colors fade until now,these short short days where they are an olive drab, but still just as beautiful.The flit of red from a cardinal is brilliant against the snow.There is a silence that slowly seeps into the world. The birds are silent visitors now. The snow mutes all noise. Sounds are more rounded. It is a starkly beautiful time of year. The exact opposite of the longest days. None of those garish greens, reds and blues , it's all monotones now.

Here is a wonderful winter poem by David Budbill From his book Moment to Moment.

All the raucous birds of summer
Faithless, transitory, fly-by- nights
Finally gone. Sky quiet, ear empty.

Chickadee, companion through
The cold and dark, little friend
At the door yard feeder again.

Now those of us who stay, we quiet ones
Settle into the winter

-David Budbill

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

These Short Days

There is a certain beauty to these short days. Days when the sun rides low in the south, never really giving us much light or warmth. It is this time of the year that, for a moment, we have done all we can do to prepare for the winter, a time that we are, in a way, set. The hay mow is still full. The cows have all calved, and we are back into the swing of cheese making.
This year we had a total of 3 heifers out of 7 calvings. Their names are Bingo, Presto and Hazy.Here's a picture of them:

And, all our summer produce is in and canned or stored.
Our root cellar, and freezers, and pantry still overflow with food. Although we've been getting seed catalogs, we haven't looked yet.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cheese, Again

Today was our 1st cheesemaking. Even though I've been making cheese for years, I am always amazed by the process. It never ceases to be a magical and very ancient experience. By adding enzymes to milk, we are able to make a wonderful ageable cheese from the cow's wonderful but perishable milk. We pump milk from the milkroom in the barn, to our cheeseroom. After the starter culture and rennet is added, the milk sets into a soft curd. To tell when it's time to cut the curds, I test them.

this is called " the clean break test". And its this that I find so awe inspiring. It worked. It always does.
So, let the cheese season begin !!

Friday, November 28, 2008

5 Milkers, and We're Ready For Cheese !!

As of today we are milking 5 cows ( Wizard, YooHoo, Hershey, Boffo, and Bosco), with 2 more to come ( Timothy and Roxie) . So now that the cow part is pretty much under control, we're on to cheesemaking.
The cheese room cleanup is, of course, much more intense than the barn. The room is scrubbed from the ceiling and walls right down to the floor. All of the moulds, presses, buckets and various cheesemaking paraphernalia are washed and sanitized. Right now, it seems insurmountable, but somehow, it always gets done. Thursday will be our 1st "make". The first batch might be a bit short, but on a normal day, we set about 1000 pounds of milk, and end up with about 140 pounds of cheese.
I'll write more about the process along with pictures as our season progresses.
But for now, on with our new season!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter Chores

I have been walking down the hill from the house to the barn every morning and every evening for chores during these dark winter days for the past 28 years. I have to tell you, I'm amazed by that statement. But its true. And, probably most amazing, is how much I still love it. It's so familiar. Every step I take in the barn is a known step. We are the ones who have worn the steps from the stable to the milk room. Even after a summer of not milking, I embrace the continuity of it. The cows calving, the milking, the haying, the sound of the milk pump the sweet smells of the barn. It really is a wonderful way to begin and end each day.
As of today, we are milking two cows, Yoohoo and Bosco. Bosco had a really beautiful heifer named Bingo, Yoohoo had a bull ( cute, but still a bull). Here's a picture of Bingo:
Milking two cows is like priming the pump. We get back in the swing of things, but slowly
Three more are due right off. Then we're on to cheese.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I love fresh pasta. It really makes any dish special. Simple stir fries, tomato sauces, anywhere noodles are used. And,it's really easy.... all you need is some flour, salt and eggs.
A well is made in the flour and the eggs are added to it. Here I used 9 yolks and 4 whole eggs. I know it seems like a lot, but there are so many wonderful meals that can be made from it.

I like to mix up a big batch, for ravioli, and roll the extra pasta into sheets. When the sheets are fairly dry, I roll them up and put in a plastic bag to be used as needed. From this batch I got 10 dozen raviolis , and a meal of pasta with a tomato sauce.

When our nieces, Isabel and Lily were visiting this summer, we cut the sheets of rolled dough into thick noodles.

They only need to boil for about 2 minutes. We put butter and cheese on it.
Another thing we do is to make lots of ravioli for freezing for a quick meal in the middle of the winter on a day where we need something fast and wonderful.

For these ravioli, we made a filling of sauteed onion and chard mixed with ricotta. But really, any filling is wonderful!!

They will be boiled for about 6 minutes, and tossed with sage butter.
The sheets of dough can also be lasagna noodles, or cut small for soups...
really, there is nothing like fresh pasta!

My recipe for pasta is:

9 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
3 cups white flour
1 cup semolina flour
1 tsp. salt
* note on the flours: I never really know how much I use, I keep adding it to the dough until it is workable
Mix flours and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add eggs and yolks. With a fork beat the eggs, slowly incorporating the flour. As the eggs absorb the flour you might need to add more flour. When the dough is formed, turn onto a floured work surface and knead ( adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking) into a smooth ball.
Put dough in a clean bowl and cover for an hour or so.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our Pantry

A vegetable garden is truly amazing. In the winter, we pour over seed brochures , imagining all those succulent tastes. Next comes the greenhouse, truly an act of faith that each seed will indeed grow into tasty veggie. The time between setting the vegetables out and the first taste seems interminable . Finally, we bite into a still warm tomato the wonderful taste just exploding in our mouths.
Then comes the canning, drying, salsa making and freezing. Really, the glory of the garden is in the pantry. I stand in the door of the pantry and marvel over our hard and seemingly endless work. The rows of canned whole tomatoes, tomato puree, fire roasted salsa, dried tomatoes. The jams we made from our own strawberries and raspberries. The jars of peaches.. not our own, but canned fresh. And the freezer full of frozen corn, and peas. Bags of swiss chard, and eggplant parm.
All beckoning us to keep enjoying our garden with wonderful winter meals.

Monday, November 10, 2008

storing root veggies for winter

Our basement/ cold storage area is starting to look mighty fine. The potatoes are easy, we just dig them, let them dry off a bit ( turning once after a few hours), and pack them into boxes. Onions need to be pulled and cured on screens in the greenhouse, then put into boxes. Carrots are a little more involved, but we eat huge amounts of them all through the winter. Grated for our winter salad of carrots, red cabbage, cave aged cheese and dried cranberries.. we never buy lettuce from some far away place when we can just walk into the basement! The dogs also love their carrots. They each get a carrot for dessert every night.
To harvest carrots, they are pulled and the tops taken off with just a few inches of the green left on. They are allowed to air dry, and turned after a few hours. If just left in a box in the basement they'd sog out really fast. We've tried to store them in sand, sawdust, and hay. But the sure winner for us has been dried maple leaves.The carrots are layered with the leaves in containers.
Using these storage methods, we get firm potatoes, onions and carrots right until early summer.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fall Chores

Fall tilling is a time for reflections. What we could and should have done differently this year, and what will be different next year. The beauty of the garden, is that there is always another year. And though every year is so different than anyone before it, the structure of the seasons are the frame in which the different seasons flow. Every year certain events happen at the same time, yet, every year is so different. I think this as I sit on my tractor, looking out over the fields, and the pastures where the cows continue to graze, even though we are into November.
I reflect on the garden, and all the rain we had this past summer. Surely, we wont have another year like that, but of course, next year could be so dry we ache for just a bit of that rain. This year was fairly cool, few of those hot days where even a breeze feels like a furnace. It's the finality of the seasons and the knowledge that soon we will be pouring over the seed catalogs that makes gardening so wonderful.
The cows will be off the pastures soon, and it will be too cold to till, and mow. But, for now, for this brief moment, it is warm enough to get our outside chores done.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Family Feast

I love winter eating. Gone are the easy meals of running out to the garden for a handful of basil, some heirloom tomatoes, a quick saute, and there is a fabulous meal. These days speak to slower, more deliberate meals. This past weekend my folks, aunts and uncles came for the first of our truly short day meals.After a beautiful antipasto plate ( and some Campari) , we had a small bowl of winter vegetable soup.

For the main dish, I had been thinking of a wonderful tart of slow cooked onions, some wilted chard and some roasted red peppers, and a sprinkling of our cave aged cheese. Afraid it might be too sweet, I made a dried tomato tapenade with some garlic, black olives and olive oil and spread it on the bottom of the tart to cut the sweetness and add some saltiness. It was wonderful, although I think next time, instead of phyllo dough, I'll use my own pie crust . A salad of fresh picked lettuce, and home made bread completed the meal. My dad made a wonderful apple tart for desert. He pre baked ( his own) pie crust, made an applesauce for the bottom, and beautifully cut apples on top, then baked it.
The warmth of family, and a wonderful meal....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October Snow !!

This Was our world on Oct. 29th, as our summer world came to a screeching halt. Last week we were bringing truckloads of produce to market, and now, nothing. It happens every year but not always with such a vengeance. The snow slowly melted, but what a glimpse into what is just around the corner! So, we did the best thing we could think of, we made soup.
Just a basic, throw everything in the pot soup. I picked leeks, potatoes, carrots, chard and parsley out of the garden. Got some onions from the basement, and corn from the freezer. Plumped up some dried Jacob Cattle beans and, viola, a wonderful winter soup. The soup, some fresh bread and butter, and all is well with the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The season of slow transitions

In late May, as our cheesemaking year draws to a close, the days are at their longest, and I can't wait for winter chores to be done with. It happens gradually... first the cows start spending nights outdoors in mid April and our late night visits to the barn to " sweep the cows in" ends. Then, in early May the pastures begin to get green, and the hay feeding season ends. And I can't wait to be out of doors. We make cheese around 50 times a year, and by batch 49 I am so ready to stop.I cannot ever imagine wanting to be tied to the barn and cheeseroom again.
So, here I am today, October 28th. We let the cows up from their pastures to give them hay since its rainy and cold and there is a chance of snow flurries tonight. As I walked down to the haymow , I found myself thinking about milking, and winter chores. And, I found myself remembering the winter barn. And I started thinking about our slow transitions between the seasons. It begins with feeding hay, then putting in the barn windows, cobwebbing, washing the mangers, and generally getting ready for the next wonderful season.... untill its time for the next!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The trials of farming

Naturally, if farming were easy, and things didn't go wrong, it really wouldn't be farming, and everyone would want to be a farmer. Just imagine, beautiful, sunny days, copious amounts of fresh organic produce.
This growing season has had a lot of ups and downs. ( great red peppers and eggplant for example) Today it feels like more downs We had inch upon inch of rain in July and August and were unable to get all of the broccoli in the ground in a timely manner. Now, when we should be 1/2 way through our harvest, we are done... unless we have a wonderful and warm November. Then there are the shallots. Last year they were our cash cow. We were able to store and sell shallots straight through until April. The price is really high, and at one point even thought we could just grow shallots. Well, this growing season got rid of those ideas ! They have been curing in the greenhouse for about a month. Today was a rainy day, so we went into the greenhouse to begin boxing them up. Sadly, a great majority were rotten ! Just like that, no shallots ! Guess they really didn't respond well to all that rain
Ah, well. We've always thought our motto should be " year " !!I suppose its that forward thinking that makes this all possible.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The last geese of the season?

There is a wonderful place where we walk in the mornings . It's called the water works, and is many preserved acres. An old reservoir, it now is a place of serene beauty. Early in the mornings, the woods are alive with warblers and other song birds. And, if we hit the timing just right, as the sun rises and hits the water, the geese take off for the day, coming back in the evenings. I tried to get a movie of a beaver swimming and otters playing, but it didn't look like much. So here is my first movie posting.... geese flying at the break of day.

Monday, October 20, 2008

channeling my inner peasant

This is what the sky looked like from the porch as we got ready to take an early morning walk yesterday. Its a wonderful time of year, we have another month until the cows freshen ( calve) so we get to go for a walk instead of go to the barn. We had a pretty hard frost the night before, so as we walked on the lower fields, the sun lit up each blade of grass with a billion prisms of shimmering light.
Then it was off to the gardens.

Picking and washing vegetables at this time of year.... when its just this side of being too cold, stirs some deep inner feelings of true contentment in me. It's these days when I find myself smiling,singing, and remembering Mary Oliver's line " Oh, to love what is lovely and will not last ..." trying to hold onto this day, this time of year. The trees still have their foliage, and picking on top of the garden is truly like being on top of the world. Sure, the washing of the veggies is cold, but I even love how cold my hands get. I think of peasants, like us, doing as we have for untold centuries

Saturday, October 18, 2008

cover crops

Just as the quality of the milk and the health of the cow depends on the quality of the hay we feed, the quality of the of the crops we grow corresponds directly to the health of the soil. We are fortunate that we have tons of wonderful composted manure to put on the soil. We also use different " green manures" in the form of cover crops to enrich the soil. In the summer, we use buckwheat. We can seed it, and till it in 30 days later ( see top picture). It adds lots of organic matter to the soil. Buckwheat is very tender, so it's best used as an early summer crop.And because to grows so fast, we can get another vegetable crop on the garden, or, if we don't need the space, we can sow another cover crop( field peas are a favorite for nitrogen, or if we're looking to add lots of organic matter sudan grass is a good choice) Later in the year ( like now, mid October) we like to use oats. They grow well into the fall, and because it winter kills we are able to get on the garden with the tractor to till easier than if we used something like rye that begins growing again early in the spring. The roots hold the soil which is nice on the slope of our garden. In the 27 years we've been gardening here, the soil has really changed from a heavy clay garden to a much lighter soil , and judging from the health of our crops, the fertility is right there.
The oats in the lower picture were seeded after the tomatoes came out. What a lovely winter coat!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mid October, and the cows are still eating pasture ! It probably wont be for long, though. On their last change of pasture the other day we noticed that the grasses are really slowing down. Soon, they'll be eating hay .

Fall is such a time of transition. Along with the colors, we slowly slip from our summer life of being outside all the time. Meals on the porch become meals inside. It is slow because we are still gardening... still have loads of broccoli to pick and cases of lettuce, but when we need onions we now go to the greenhouse instead of up to the garden.And, we are also remembering that window in the barn that needs fixing, and the bales of sawdust ( because there is no longer bulk sawdust available from the saw mills ) need to be moved around.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leeks !

So much more go into leeks than the beautiful white spears you get at the market. They are started in the greenhouse in early spring. Being frost hardy, they can be set out early. We make a deep ( well, not that deep, about a foot or so) trenches, and transplant each baby leek into the trench. Then, through out the growing season we hill them. That's why they have long, usable white portions. In the fall, when they reach their full size they are pulled, cleaned up and washed. All that for a leek? Yes ! We are know locally for our beautiful leeks.
Here is a recipe for an easy and delicious potato leek soup:

Leek and Potato Soup

3 Tb. Butter
4 Cups sliced leeks
3 Tb. Flour
6 cups hot water
1 Tb. Salt, or to taste and ground black pepper to taste
4 cups diced potatoes ( I love yellow boiling potatoes)
2 cups milk added at the end of cooking.( add at end so it doesn’t curdle)

Melt butter over moderate heat in a soup pot, stir in leeks. Cover pot, and cook slowly over low heat for 10 minutes. Then blend in flour, and cook over moderate heat for 2 minutes to cook the flour. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, slowly stir in hot water to blend with the leeks and flour. Stir in salt and pepper, and potaoes. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover pot and let cook for about 40 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Potatoes can be partially mashed , or left in the cubed state. What ever suits your fancy!

So easy, and so good!

I'm new to writing recipes, so let me know how this works for you.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

the edge of frost

It's at this time of the year that I most feel the thin line between the seasons. Closer to the house, and under some trees the frost hasn't hit yet . The first frost was light enough that the remay that covered the eggplant and peppers was sufficient. But, what a tiny matter of degrees!.
Really, the line between the  living and the dead. 
I find it so amazing that there are the tender plants, and then, there are the hardiest of the hardys. Take lettuce for example. How is it that a tender red boston will take temps. in the high 20's, but a rugged plant like a pepper, or tomato will turn brown at 30 ? And basil, the slightest cold wind blowing on it turns the leaves brown. 
The tomatoes are gone. And the clean up has begun. First we  pull up the soaker hose, roll it up, mark the lengths, and store them for next spring.
Then the posts are removed and stacked.                                                                                                                     

Then the ground is tilled, manure spread and, weather permitting, a cover crop of oats is sown. 
I love this time of year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

the first frost...

This week has been a week of getting ready for the frost... lots of picking the veggies that will die in the cold weather. Lots of peppers, both green and red... eggplants, the remainders of the tomatoes. Then we cover some of the peppers and eggplant with a large 30 X 100 foot piece of light fabric called remay. It gives the plants enough protection from light frosts to keep them from dying. 
The veggies not affected by frost are leeks, lettuce, broccoli and carrots. 

I'm on my way to the garden to do some picking,,, I'll add some more pictures later. 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Its looking like tomorrow will be out first broccoli picking, a bit late for us, but, oh well. Every year has its hardships... and this summer's heavy rain made it hard for us to get our fall plantings in on time. I'm not sure how to put 2 pictures on a posting , but I wanted to get this beautiful broccoli head on here also. 

Oh, easier than I thought it would be. As I keep learning, I'll try to make this more interesting to read.

I'd like to add a recipe sections for food I love to cook......( once I figure how to add new sections, I'm sure its easy once one knows how) Along with photos of the food.
Let me know what you think too. This is all so new to me! 

Autumnal updates

It's hard to believe in out zone 4 1/2 area we can grow a southern belle like this hibiscus. She blooms mid September, and here we are in Oct......still enjoying lots of blooms. The days are getting shorter, and I think tomorrow ( monday) we'll be picking for a frost. 
But, our greenhouse is full of onions and shallots, and we still have plantings of broccoli and lettuce to come. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Salsa Making

Salsa making is a wonderful fall tradition. Its a whole day activity of picking tomatoes, an array of hot and sweet peppers, chopping lots of onions, garlic, peeling and dicing everything. The air is filled with the smoky heat of roasting peppers. We start by making a wood fire in the fire pit. As the peppers are fire roasted they are put into a covered pot, then peeled. Then everything is cooked together for hours on the stove. Opening a jar of salsa in the winter is heavenly, sending me right back to this perfect early fall day !!