Thursday, June 30, 2011

Waiting for Raspberries

It may be that I'm just more aware of it than usual, or maybe it's that I just desperately crave fresh raspberries, but the time it's taking this year's raspberry crop to go from little green berries to the plump juicy gems I crave seems like it's moving in slow motion! 

If we get a bit more rain, I anticipate that this year will be the best raspberry harvest we've ever had. The cultivated red, yellow and purple patches and the wild black raspberry thickets are full of unripe berries to the point of flopping over. I've never seen so many! I just hope we continue to get this nice weather with a bit more rain. In the past we've had promising looking seasons that have ended in misery when defeated by drought. I'll be at the very least soaker hosing my cultivated beds, but the black raspberries are so delicious I'd hate to see them fail!

I've already started researching some various recipes and I can't wait to have fresh raspberries and ice cream.

What are some of your favorite raspberry uses and recipes? Do you prefer them baked/preserved in some way, or fresh from the cane?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Constant Canine Companions

This morning while sitting on my porch this morning, listening to our quail cock call with his adorable raspy voice, I glanced outside to see my dogs lying in the yard, both carefully oriented so that they could watch me with little effort. It suddenly occurred to me (and overwhelmed me a bit) how dreadfully I take our dogs for granted. They are always present while I'm outside, and even when they find the urge to explore they always check in every ten minutes or so just to see what I'm doing.

Connor and Basil, February 2011, pictured above.

We have two dogs living with us. Connor, our runty German Shepherd, is roughly seven years old. I adopted him from a rescue in Flint, MI between my junior and senior years of college and he is the most amazing dog I've ever met. He has an amazing ability to pick key words out of complete sentences, and to read body language and voice inflection, such that I can talk to him like I would a human. I'm not kidding. This morning I told him "Hey! I really want you to stay on the porch this morning instead of muddying up the house..." and he came back onto the porch from the house and lay at my feet. He helps me round up the ducks and the sheep and knows several herding commands.

This is Connor's first puppy photo, the day after I brought him home.

The other dog we share our home with is Basil. She also came from a rescue and was considerably damaged when we brought her home. She came from out of state (one of the Carolinas I believe) and the regulations on the shelters and pounds there are nauseating. She had been kept in a "kill room" which I understand to be a room that they stuff all of the random dogs and cats slated for euthanasia. The only state requirement for these rooms is that the animals be provided with water. The person who euthanizes the animals comes once a week and poor Basil spent three days in this room before she was rescued by a collie rescue from Ohio. They pulled Basil and her four siblings from the shelter and placed them in foster care as quickly as possible, but a lot of damage had been done. Her foster mom had been great at keeping her healthy, but she had also allowed her to hide under the end table most of the time and catered to Basil's neurotic behaviours so she had no reason to learn to adapt.

Basil is the little one in the middle.

When we brought her home she would hide in any corner she could fine. We effectively made our living room round with the aid of sheets of cardboard and we forced her (literally clawing and crying) out from any hiding spot she found. We literally forced her to be our friend, and I can still remember slumping down after a long day, head in hands, wondering if this had been a huge mistake. I like a challenge, but I can't stand neurotic dogs.

Basil is such a patient dog, and has calmed down a great deal since we brought her home.

Now, two years later, Basil is a totally normal (if slightly hyperactive) dog when she's around us. She still gets squeaky and nervous around new people, but she is proving to be a wonderful companion and she loves to cuddle (where Connor is above the notion). She is the silly to Connor's serious. They compliment each other perfectly.

Can you tell I like skinny-built dogs with pointy ears? :)

These two buddies of mine follow me around the yard, happily wagging their tails when I toss them weeds to shred, chasing imaginary squirrels when I point up at the trees, breaking up fighting drakes and getting head butted by ornery ewes. They are amazing guard dogs and I have watched them launch after scouting coyotes with a terrifying fervor that any predator would think twice about invoking twice. They keep the bunnies from my veggies and the raccoons from my chickens. I  don't know what I would do without them, and now that I've really thought about it I don't think I'll ever take them for granted again. My farm would be a disaster without them!

Do you have any four-legged or feathered companions in your life that you just couldn't do without? Do they help you in your day-to-day activities?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Improv Recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Biscuits

I spent a lot of yesterday in the kitchen, working on various improvised recipes. For breakfast I made strawberry rhubarb biscuits (using goat's milk instead of buttermilk) with a strawberry rhubarb honey compote. The biscuits weren't terribly sweet, which allowed the compote to really stand up to the hearty flavor of the wheat in the biscuit. I started with a basic biscuit recipe and altered it to accommodate my needs. The compote was almost an accident when I realized I'd sliced too many strawberries and didn't want to waste them!

If you have strawberries that are just at that point where you're not sure you're going to be able to use them before they go bad, this is a great recipe. These babies were bruised and abused before being turned into a fantastic breakfast!


  • 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh rhubarb, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup whole wheat flower
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread or pastry flour - something finer grained
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 Tbsp baking soda
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter
  • 2/3 cup goat milk (could substitute buttermilk, whole cow milk, etc)

Before doing anything else, toss 1/2 cup of your sliced strawberries with 1 Tbsp of brown sugar. Then spread them on a cookie sheet in a single layer and pop them in the freezer. Adding frozen berries to your biscuit dough will keep the batter from getting overly tacky as you mix it.

Next, combine all of your remaining dry ingredients and sift together. I used a food processor for this recipe and it was amazingly fast and easy to make. After sifting add your cold butter, one tablespoon at a time and pulsing between tablespoons, to the food processor. If you're doing this by hand, you should use a pastry cutter to chop the butter into itty bitty bits before adding it to your dry mix. The goal is to get a consistency similar to course cornmeal once the butter is mixed thoroughly in.

Now it's time to add your milk. Do this bit by bit, only adding enough milk to slightly moisten the whole mix. If you add too much milk you'll end up with very sticky, hard-to-handle dough - especially once the strawberries begin to thaw.

When your dough is moistened and clumping, add your rhubarb. I ran the food processor just a bit extra after adding the rhubarb because I prefer not to ahve big chunks of rhubarb in my biscuits. If you prefer big chunks, by all means leave them that way! Same goes with the strawberries. Add those next.

Run the processor until your strawberries and rhubarb have the consistency you prefer.

Now if you're not able to cut your biscuits quickly after you finish mixing the dough I suggest you refrigerate it until you do. This dough can be very tacky and as the strawberries thaw it becomes increasingly so.

When you're ready to bake your biscuits, have your oven pre-heated to around 450º F. Knead the dough until it's smooth-ish and pat down (or I suppose you could roll it with a non-stick rolling pin) until it's around 3/4 inch thick. Use a 2" biscuit cutter to cut 16 biscuits and place them on parchment paper. This recipe has enough butter that if you like a thick crust on the bottoms of your biscuits you probably don't need the parchment paper; I didn't use it.

Bake for 12-18 minutes, checking them around 10 minutes to make sure they're not baking too quickly. I've found that with recipes that use high heat and short baking time it's very easy to over bake things.

While they're baking, make your compote!


  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup rhubarb sliced
  • 3 Tbsp Honey

Combine the three ingredients in an oven-safe pan (I used a shallow ceramic crock) and pop it in the oven (at 450º) alongside your biscuits as they bake. I left it in for around 10-15 minutes so if you time this correctly you can be moving your biscuits to a cooling rack while your compote finishes up.

All that's left now is to drizzle compote over your biscuits, eat and enjoy! This recipe isn't terribly sweet, so I've been eating it as a breakfast food, but if you up the sugar/honey just a bit you'll be able to enjoy this with fresh clotted cream or sweetened whipped cream as a strawberry rhubarb shortcake!

What are some new ways you're enjoying this year's strawberry harvest?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday favorites: Dish Towels?

Well, I haven't posted a Friday Favorite since back when I was blogging about horse training. I figured I'd start back into it with something fantastically mundane.

Dish Towels!

I washed every single dish towel I could find this morning and I can't begin to tell you how satisfying it was. I plan to pickle radishes later today and it's always so nice to have a fresh, clean dish towel to mop up spills and wipe jar lids.

My favorite dish towel is the flour sack dishtowel. It's soft, absorbent, cotton and inexpensive. You can even use it as a filter for syrups and cheese curds. In fact, it's exactly the same texture and weave as functional old fashioned cheese cloth, as opposed to the wimpy wispy cheese cloth they sell for crafts nowadays.

Do you have a favorite type of dish towel?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Poultry Photo Shoot, Spring 2011

Sooooo... I did a photo shoot with my baby chickens and quail. I know it's hokey, but they're so cute!

Sleepy buckeye chick

Another adorable buckeye chick

 A welsummer chick!

A white Cochin (with adorable feathered feet)! Of course, I didn't order white Cochins. They sent them to me on accident, intending to send me Cornish. Ugh. They'd better be cute!

I can't get over how cute young Coturnix quail are! (Yes, that's poo.)

The breeder made us try a young Texas A & M quail too.

Here's our single cinnamon coturnix quail chick. I'm hoping this one's a female.

Saying Goodbye to Ingrid

Sorry for the dead air, folks. I've been in a bit of a funk the past two days (as you can imagine, I'm sure) but this morning brought about a fresh spring rain and some time to spend indoors.
Saying goodbye to Ingrid has been tough for me. We're still in our first year of keeping sheep, and there have been a lot of trials. There's a little part of me that can't help but feel like I'm just no good at it, between Gertrude's stillbirth and Ingrid's bottlejaw and sudden death, but at the same time I'm fully aware that they're difficult animals to keep. I'm keeping my chin up, and I'm not quitting sheep yet.

In case you missed the previous post, I woke Tuesday morning to discover our oldest sheep, Ingrid (I believe she was close to nine years old) on the brink of death. She was laying splayed flat, legs rigid and forward, twitching and barely conscious. Laura, from Queso Cabeza, had warned me that grass tetany was a possibility in sheep and that it made them twitchy and sensitive. Grass tetany is basically a metabolic disease that stems from the ewe having severely depleted magnesium. The way to treat/prevent it is simply to dose them with milk of magnesia. Unfortunately in some cases the disease can progress quickly, often leading to death within 90 minutes of the first presentation of symptoms. Ingrid's bottle jaw (anemia caused by barberpole worms) earlier this year had stressed her system, and between that and her being six and a half weeks out from lambing and lactating, it isn't terribly surprising that it was she that was affected.

Gosh. I'm feeling ranty.

Farming is so intensely about learning. I think that's the first lesson for anyone who decides to undertake it, either as a hobby, lifestyle or career. If you're unable to learn quickly, and to accept that mistakes often result in emotionally and morally crushing blows, you may want to start slow. It could be the death of an animal, the failing of a crop, the collapsing of a structure...

As first generation farmers, we do so many things requiring a HUGE variety of skills that in this day, raised on modern technology and "conventional" education, are not provided to us readily.

These are skills that used to be ingrained in the very fabric of humanity - passed down through communities, down through families. Survival skills, the ability to adapt quickly, and to improvise - the best resource for all of this these days is the internet, rather than spending time observing and learning from someone nearby. Even then, you have to be willing to just dive right in and get your hands dirty. Unfortunately, the consequences to being undereducated, even just a little bit, can be pretty severe.

I guess what I'm getting at is that despite improvements to farming through modern technology, there are a lot of new hurdles on other levels for new farmers. This spring has taught me to be a better observer of my animals, and to accept that crop failure due to cruddy weather is something I just can't do anything about. The best thing I can do for my farming future is try to obtain the skills that would've been more easily provided to me as a young farmer 100 years ago (Okay, okay. probably not as a woman!) I can research, stay informed, improvise when necessary and above all continue to forge ahead, no matter how discouraged I feel when I roll out of bed in the morning.

We buried Ingrid on a friend's farm, way out back. It was satisfying to bury her in a lush, grassy field. Our friend asked us to put some sort of marker where we buried her, so they wouldn't accidentally dig her up at some point in the near future. I tend to lean toward opposing the marking of graves - I have some fairly strong ideas about mourning and the whole cemetery thing - but I transplanted a willow whip to her grave, feeling intensely sentimental about this skittish ewe that taught me so much in her short time with me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A sad day.

Just to let you know, Ingrid died this morning from grass tetany. It's a quick-to-kill metabolic condition caused by magnesium deficiency. Brighid has already decided the bottle of goat milk is an OK substitute for her mum's milk, but she's very stressed to not have Ingrid there. Gertrude is a good sport tho and is taking care of her.

We still don't have a new modem but I'll be posting more when we do.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Late Spring around Tanglewood

Spring is coming to a close right before my eyes. The first snap peas are nearly ready for harvest. I'm so close to finishing planting all of the gardens that I'm beginning to feel claustrophobic. I'm constantly obsessing: I only have 3'x5 left to plant this crop or that crop, or maybe I can stick a row of spinach in under that trellis. Really what dawned on my yesterday is that this is the time of year I get a week or two to relax.

The summer horse camp that I run begins at the end of this month so if I can get everything in the ground and decently weeded in the next week I will manage to have a few days to do very little with myself apart from water beds, spray a little fish emulsion here and there and ride horses to prep them for the slew of little kids that will be riding them this summer. That sounds nice, I think.

Anyway, here are some late spring photographs from around the farm.

Cajeta and fresh strawberries. I posted the recipe for cajeta over at Not Dabbling this week!

The mock orange bushes are threatening to take over the entire yard. They've at least doubled in size since we moved in. This year they are sweeter smelling than ever, and at least 25'x15x15. Huge!

Our lady ducks are sharing their nest again. We've decided to let them hatch a few eggs since they spent so much time lining the nest with soft down. They are definitely better at setting this year than they were last year!

Okay, I'm super embarrassed by the awesomely sloppy job I did of shearing my sheep this year, but I figured I'd post a photo of Gertrude, giving me the "yeah, you prolly should've sheared my neck dumby" look... She was so done with standing nicely that I gave up before finishing her neck. Ah well. She'll live.

Brighid is getting to be humongous, and she is still harassing the chickens, though one of our hens has started hanging out with Ingrid more so she's had to adjust to that. The chickens have such big personalities, it amazes me that I can tell them apart by the way they act (since nearly all of them look alike). 

Ah yes, and the itty bitty planted-super-late tomato seedlings have been planted out. They're still small, but they're strong. They'll be getting a big dose of fish emulsion today since the weather is sunny and cool.

And of course harvest will begin in summer as usual, right smack dab in the middle of camp season and I'll be left scrambling around before 8AM trying to get produce in and gardens watered before the heat of the day hits and I am stranded in a barn with 12 little kids wondering if my peas are going to get sunburn. I try not to think about that this time of year. :)

Friday, June 10, 2011


Never name a duck after a character known for being picked on. At least he's smart enough to adapt to hiding in hard to reach places!

Monday, June 6, 2011

In the Kitchen

Between yesterday and today I have put up a half gallon of rhubarb syrup and almost a half gallon of cajeta. I'll be posting a cajeta recipe later this week for sure!

Cajeta is a very dark goat's milk based caramel. This stuff is for serious caramel lovers! It is very similar to dulce de leche, but made with goat milk rather than cow. Next time I make it, I'll try adding more spices!

Have you ever made cajeta, dulce de leche or caramel? What are your favorite recipes/methods?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Predictions and Patience

You know for sure that the spring has been poor for planting when the old farmer next door comes out to farm on a Sunday. He's a very old fashioned guy (well, if you don't count the amazing profanities that spew from his mouth in every conversation) and I can say easily that I have never seen him on a Sunday.

This spring has taught me a lot about reading weather and being patient. I find that the more I switch to planting seeds directly rather than seedlings, them more I have to be in touch with what the world around me says about the weather. Seedlings can bounce back to a certain degree, but seeds will rot, fry or even wash away if not planted in the right conditions.

The other day I had planned to plant dill and a few other very superficially planted seeds. We had been hearing storm warnings all day, but the previous two days had been full of storm warnings and had yielded not a sprinkle of rain. When I went to the garden to plant my seeds I noticed the birds seemed quieter than usual. Sure there were a few cheery robins and a nuthatch singing, but even they were singing from shelter in the bramble thickets.

I decided against planting the seeds and worked on weeding instead, and within a half hour, huge black clouds had leapt out from behind our windbreak and were poised above me, rumbling grouchily. The downpour we got was enough that it would have washes my seeds away, had I planted them. Songbirds to the rescue!

Yesterday was hot and sticky and the air was full of electricity when I got another storm warning. This time however the warblers were singing, as were the sparrows and orioles. You know if the orioles are out the weather will be fair. They're wimps.

I planted my seeds and we never got a storm - not even a dark cloud! By late afternoon I decided it was definitely necessary to run sprinklers to keep my semi-established seedlings and the newly planted seeds from frying in the near-90 degree sun.

It's fascinating to me that a little extra attention to the world around you can make you a better farmer or gardener. Some use the sky as an indication of weather (red sky at night, sailor's delight...) others use the smell of rain or the birds.

Do you use any old fashioned methods to predict weather?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New Additions

What is the size of a mouse and chirps like a cricket? ...

Baby Quail!

We are now raising ten baby quail for at least the next few months; Nine of them are Cotournix quail and one is "Texas A&M" which just means it's a white cotournix. They're so tiny and quiet it's amazing! The smallest one is literally no bigger than a baby mouse and they're all surprisingly calm and fascinating to watch. 

Having ground-dwelling chicks is taking some getting used to. They don't like to be picked up from above and they certainly don't perch. They seem irritated when you make them perch, in fact! They prefer to be on solid ground which means no picking up and carrying around, but if you set your hand in their cage they'll let you "hang out" with them... Hopefully I'll have at least one suitable mating pair so I can hatch my own little quaillettes in the future. These little guys will provide eggs and meat for us, as well as some interesting conversation topics. Their housing has to be fairly special - draft free (to prevent quail piles... piles of quail in which they often kill each other), low ceilings (to prevent them from flying up, hitting the ceilings and breaking their necks) and very tiny mesh cage wire (these guys are so tiny they can fit through 1'x1 wire mesh... chicken wire even!)

It's amazing. These little fluffers only incubate for 17 days! In fact, within 5 weeks they start laying the next brood, and at the same time they reach "market weight" which is literally only a few ounces. :) Plus, mature quail only really need 1-2' sq feet per bird once they're mature. Mwahaha. I am Quail Girl!