Monday, November 28, 2011

I love my Job

I have some of the most adorable horses in the world. Esme, the chestnut on the left, has found a new home and will be leaving theoretically tomorrow to go live at Willow Tree stables with her new owner. I'll miss her, but I totally adore her new owner and I know she'll be happy and well cared for.
It's been rainy here in Michigan. This time of year, rain = mud... LOTS of it. I was unprepared yesterday for the sludgy sloppy mess at the horse farm, but today I will be trekking out in knee-high rubber boots. Take THAT Michigan mud...

...And while much of the rest of the employed world is sitting in chairs and typing on keyboards and planning and discussing and presenting various real-worldy kind of things, I will soon be at my job, where I am essentially paid to play in the mud with big, friendly fuzzy creatures while teaching others to do the same. 

I love my job.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Busy busy like a bee

I have recently found myself super motivated to do anything but sit at the computer. I've come out of a funk that I hadn't even realized I was in, and I'm planning gardens, cutting firewood, preserving seasonal food, baking like mad and pretty much running around like a crazy person.

It's nice to be a crazy person again.


Anyway, this morning I found myself inspired to make cranberry syrup so that I can freeze it and use it to flavor various things (spritzer, wine, sugar, bread, cookies? Oooh the possibilities are endless!)

Have you ever made cranberry syrup? It's super easy!

Simply take cranberries and bring them to a slow boil in just enough water to cover them. In this case I used 13oz of local cranberries (isn't Michigan cool? We can grow everything from cranberries to kiwis!) and 3 cups of water, with a sprinkling of sugar and a pinch of meyer lemon zest. I'll boil it until it looks right and then I'll strain it through cheese cloth, let it cool and package it up for freezing. I might freeze it in ice cube trays! Oo!

The best part of all is listening to it boil as the cranberries Pop Pop Pop!

It's very satisfying.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To be Thankful

(Alright, I'm shadow-posting this from my Not Dabbling in Normal post this morning. Sorry folks!)

I am Thankful (this is my thankful face^).

In the past, I've felt like writing the whole "I am thankful for..." thing was ridiculously primary-school. It always felt forced and stuffy. I am thankful for my dog and my house and my Polly Pocket.
It really wasn't until this year that I realized that listing what we're thankful for isn't just listing; It's committing. It makes the writer bear a part of them self in a concrete way and it makes the writer really ponder the things in their life.

If you still feel like its primary-school-like, well... too bad.

I'm thankful for the bountiful harvests that occur around me each year, both naturally and cultivated.

 I'm thankful for the beauty in the world, and my ability to pause and take it in.

I'm thankful for the silly in the world and my husband's neverending ability to make me laugh harder and longer.

I'm thankful to have been born into a supportive, albeit strange family, and to have married into a family just as supportive, albeit a little more "normal".

I'm thankful for my life, my passions and my endless daydreams.

I am also thankful to be part of a blossoming digital community that comes together, via blogs and social networking to discuss, learn, challenge and inspire one another.

Thank you readers and NDiN contributors.

With love, Emily

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Afternoon at the Horse Expo (and a brief history of Cowboy Ben)

I spend a pleasant afternoon with some great friends yesterday, old and new (I can't tell you how exciting it is to have a new friend... life gets a little stale as a homesteader, especially if you're prone to hermit-like behaviors like I am). We went to lunch and then over to the big expo center in Novi for the Novi Equestrian Expo - Michigan's Finest Horse Equestrian Expo. This is kind of a misnomer, as the Lansing Stallion Expo in March is far better as far as programming, setup, turnout and venue, but I digress. 

We wandered the shopping areas and I managed to talk myself and some friends into buying new Roeckl riding gloves (mother of god they're expensive!) and I found the perfect cowboy boots for my little brother, Ben. I call him my little brother (speaking of misnomers) because he's six years younger than I am, but he's probably ten inches taller than I am, too.

Ben used to have this bizarre alter ego as a toddler where he'd wear a cowboy hat and run around pretending he was a cowboy. If you called him "Ben" he'd correct you; "Cowboy Ben" he'd say. We'd have to ask him when "Ben" was coming back and eventually he'd go "Well I'm gonna get going" and leave the room. When he returned without the hat on, he obviously was "Ben" again. Oh, I bet I'm gonna get some flak for posting this. Anyway. These boots totally rock, and I'd love to see Cowboy Ben riding his dusty mare in them... perhaps this time in more than little-kid-tighty-whities and a hat. (Oh yes, I can see the approach of the end of my life, now... He will kill me. Tighty Whities. Bwaha. I <3 you, Ben! I'm an older sister, this is what I'm programmed to do!)

I also picked up some of the best machined socks I've ever worn. They're from a local alpaca farm (Williamston Alpaca Shoppe), and the woman raises Suri alpacas (super soft fiber), barters for Huacaya fiber (stronger, less soft) and has it combined, milled, spun and machined into boot socks which she sells at her store and at various expos and fairs. They weren't cheap, but I can tell you that they definitely beat out smartwool socks any day, and they were comparable in price. Plus, they're local!

After milling about the vendor areas, we meandered over to the demonstrations and sat. It's hard for me to go to these expos and take pleasure out of the demos, usually. There are a couple trainers in the area (who I will avoid naming, obviously) that I think are outright terrible. In particular, the one trainer bills herself as being a centered, balanced and gentle trainer; Her horses look stiff, there is no bend and no grace, and because this woman has shown at upper levels she has a massive following. 

Let me hop up on my soap box for a second and talk about the Golden Curse. 

My trainer, growing up, often talked about the Golden Curse. When people who have lots of money they often buy the horses with 10 out of 10 star movement. These are horses that have Olympic, or at least Grand Prix potential. 

These same people then want to get to the highest levels the fastest, so they employ a huge battery of methods to do so. This includes using gadgetry, strappy-tie-down-thingies, working the horses too much too fast, developing the wrong muscles, and basically creating the equivalent of over-processed horses (think McDonalds food - Fills you up, leaves you unhealthy). 

They started with 10 star movement, and because these horses are so amazing, naturally, their crappy training brings them down to 7-8 star movement and they still go to the top levels. They score well because the judges are looking for horses in a certain "frame" and despite the fact that these horses don't have the muscle or balance to be in that "frame" correctly, they do well at shows. Unfortunately, like any athlete trying to perform above their body's capabilities, these horses often break down by ten years old. You rarely hear of horses in the Olympics competing beyond the age of ten, and when you do, they're the horses that clean up and continue to come back year after year because they are correctly trained.

Cut to trainers like me. My horses have average movement. 5 star. I can't afford anything more. With slow, balanced, light and correct training my horses have the capacity to be ridden with 6, 7 or even 8 star movement. We all average out, but because most judges see the 10 star horses moving at 80% capacity consistently, they get the better scores. Never mind the fact that the horses have pinned ears and swishing tails, or that they have severe bits or cranked nosebands. They look miserable. The one trainer had a student riding her horse like that. The horse easily could've moved out into a fantastic gate, but was stuck in an outright abusive bit and had developed an S curve (swan neck) to it's neck. Ew. Ew. Ew.


Definitely hopping off the soap box.

So we watched the demos and gritted our teeth. I found where I used to giggle at the silly training mistakes some of the demonstrators would make, I now cringe and watch the horses bear everything simply for the love of their owners. They're simply amazing animals.

The last demo we watched was a cowboy with his overo (type of spotting) trick horses. He had the loudest colored Fresian I've ever seen - 50/50 black and white pinto. The bizarre thing is that usually when you see a rare-colored horse (Fresians are almost always solid black - in fact I don't think the spotted horses can be registered as purebreds) they are built like mongrels, and their color has come about from poor choices in color-genetic-focused breeding. This guy was actually considerably more "correctly" built than most, so I totally swooned over him. Of course then I learned his name was "Crusader" and that his owner is a "Cowboy for Christ" (his other horses were Apostle and Pastor...*PalmForeheadSmack*) I'm not atheist or anything, but GEEZUZ. Crusader? Really? I lost interest quickly, after that.

The expo was a nice way to spend an afternoon away from home. I get so caught up in things around the farm that I get a little too "in my head" and find myself talking to plants and musical instruments and stuff, so this was a mental health day for me - that's for sure!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dark Days of Winter Challenge

Well, the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, hosted this year by Laura from Urban Hennery and the whole crew (including myself) over at Not Dabbling in Normal, is getting ready to kick off... It begins November 27th and will run through March 31st, so I hope you're ready for some serious SOLE scavenging! SOLE stands for Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical - the four main principles guiding this challenge.

By signing up for the Dark Days Challenge, I am committing to cooking at least one SOLE meal a week. After that, I'll be posting about it here on my blog, and then weekly or biweekly we'll be recapping all of the participants' posts over at Not Dabbling. It's going to be intense! Last year there were tons of participants, and this year we're trying to work together to get even more!

I've been preparing by freezing local produce and eggs. This morning, my lady-chickens actually had left five eggs for me! This is a record. I think they loved the slightly sunny, warm weather we had yesterday so they went into overdrive. I had been getting an average of one and a half eggs a day, so.. Woo!

Some of my girls lay the most beautiful green and blue eggs (they're Easter Eggers - poorly breed Americaunas - mutts); the others lay light and chocolaty brown eggs, and the recent influx of nice-weather-at-the-end-of-the-season eggs means I have enough to freeze. I'm also planning to blow these eggs (as well as freeze the innards - dual purpose!) to use to make some Christmas presents. They're such pretty colors, it's hard to resist!

This leads me to my next question: Are you planning an ethical Christmas this year? Do you plan to do your holiday preparation and shopping Conscientiously? If so, I have another challenge that we'll be announcing soon - Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On the mastication of bones, and mid-night brainstorming

Jeremy and I decided to go to bed fairly early last night. We had planned to go to a movie but, upon completing a mediocre dinner out, we gave in to our old-fogey-ness and skipped the movie to go home instead (after a quick stop at the bookstore).

He has just returned from a comic convention in North Carolina, and his returning flight was such that he'd been up since the wee hours of the morning (after some late and ruckusy comic-book-geeky nights previously) so he was ready to crash. I was fairly wired for the trip home but as soon as my eyes spotted the nice warm covers I was a slave to sleep. It was nice to get some rest... while it lasted.

Around 3:30AM (which is the time that my brain likes to wake up and be super manic if I so much as stir while sleeping) I heard a loud crash from across the room. I listened quietly to discern which animal had done what terrible act and sure enough, moments later, I heard a very low "Mrrrrrrerrrremrrr..." This is the sound of our tomcat mumbling a growl around carefully mouthed, fuzzy body of a mouse. I'd know that sound anywhere.

Harrison often loses his mice while trying to play with them, so I figured I'd let it play out a minute. Unfortunately I started to drift off to sleep again (all the while my brain going "Hey! You're falling asleep again! That's cool, you can't normally do that this late in the wee morning. In fact, normally you're stuck thinking about what you need to do today, and just think of all those things you need to do today... you need to teach later, three lessons, what are you going to do in each lesson? hmmm..." et cetera...)

Just as I hit that critical moment of sleep that accompanies brain-shut-uppedness, I hear it... "Scrunch, squish, crunch, crunch, squish..." To anyone who has ever done small animal taxidermy, this is the high tambered, gristly sound of a rodent skull being slowly cut into... or masticated, in this case, by Harrison. He doesn't normally eat his mice, so the shock of this was jolting enough that I quickly found myself out of bed and chasing him around the room, mouse body complete with stringy brains hanging from his mouth and dragging all over the floor. Finally I caught him and shook him around a bit until he spit the poor ragged body out onto one of my sweatshirts. Ew.

My cat: The Zombie.

Anyway, after this, attempting to sleep was pretty futile for a while. I lay in bed quietly daydreaming of pastries and sweet, of how I'm going to arrange my market booth and how I'm going to display my baked goods. It wasn't a bad experience, but it definitely would've been more welcome at a time other than four in the morning. I eventually managed to get back to sleep right before the sky began to lighten, and then of course I was greeted by the Bremen town musicians chorusing below my window, complete with ducks, roosters and sheep.

Now that I'm awake I have decided to spend the morning scribbling my own personal recipes onto index cards, denoting whether they are cake base, frosting, cookie, confection or tartlette recipes in the corner for quick and easy recognition.  It's been a while since I've done anything with index cards. I admit that laying them all around me after I've completed them is a satisfying way to quantify how much work I've put into developing recipes so far, since beginning this whole baking endeavor. I refuse to use recipes from other people unless I've done quite a bit of tweaking and altering. Instead, I've been reading up on baking chemistry and taking inspiration and ideas from other recipes to sort of set me in the right direction. The one exception of this is probably the Miette double chocolate cake (Oh god. So good.) but it's not likely to be a cake I actually get around to selling, as I have some excellent alternatives to it that are slightly less labor intensive. It's more of a cake to show off to your friends with... :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tanglewood Poll: What would you consider buying?

What tiny sweets would you consider purchasing from a Market Bakery and Confectionary?
(Please select your top 3-4 choices)
 miniature single layer cakes
 miniature three layer cakes
 miniature cookies
 miniature fruit pies
 miniature chocolate or nut tartlettes
 miniature cupcakes
 fruit candies
 chocolate candies
 freshly made marshmallows free polls