Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Day That We Knew Was Coming

Last summer, we bit the bullet and brought 3 Katahdin sheep home.  We loved the idea of hair sheep, needing no shearing, and Katahdins are know for their disease resistance and ease of care.  We instantly fell in love.  Not only do they help immensely with the lawn and pasture care, but they are as lovable and cute as any family pet.

Which is a challenge when one of them is a wether you intend to send to freezer camp.  

To make things harder (for us) he came to us christened with the name Amos.  I quickly made a mental note to change it to Tasty Nugget.

When you raise your own, it is always feels like walking a tightrope between loving and caring for your animals humanely, and falling absolutely head over heels in love with them.  The latter i save for the ladies, they will never be meat on our farm.

We decided to raise sheep to curb our addiction to beef.  Although we eat grass fed beef from a local farm we know and trust, we still feel like we could do a little more to reduce our footprint.  Having our own meat seemed to fit the bill, as they help maintain the grass that can trap more carbon dioxide and they are fierce grass to meat converters without making too much manure.  Their bedding makes a great mulch for the berry bushes and trees.

We weren't certain when we were going to butcher.  Typically lambs are butchered at 6 month, but then i read where yearlings can produce beautifully marbled meat and have a greater depth of flavour.  We decided to wait a year and try it out.  

The last year, Tasty Nugget spent strolling our pastures, munching grasses, dandelions, and clover in the spring, blackberry and raspberry leaves and trimming from the garden in the summertime, grape leaves, windfall apples, and more garden trimmings in the fall, and alfalfa/hay mix during the cold winter months.  On the coldest of days, we treat him to a little organic wheat or oatmeal and some sunflowers.  In the spring and summer, while this coat was sleek and meager, we were brush him and pet him.  As he started to grow older in the winter months and his coat bulked up, he grew more independent and didn't seek as much affection from us.  We still treated him to the occasional apples and pear in the lean mean winter months before spring.  Lately he started enjoying pets again (isn't it always the way?) and we spent hours out there with him in the last few weeks, enjoying him, praying over him, thanking him for his help around the farm and his life for our nourishment.

Today Tasty Nugget walked the Green Mile.
Days like today my choice to eat meat dangles by a sheer thread. 

Our kidlet decided to not be here at home when the butcher arrived.  We found a small bakery favoured by us in our city livin' years to visit.  The whole time we were thinking of Tasty.

The butcher in our little town is just a few mile from our place.  He came out this morning, and instantly my husband liked him.  He was gentle and kept calling Tasty "partner".  He was very calm and humane.  Just what we hoped for on such a solemn occasion.

We won't be eating the meat for a few months.  We've noticed when we butcher our chickens, it takes us a few weeks to actually begin to use them.  We spend many days prayerfully contemplating the circle of life and the food chain.  The fact that we know our animals are loved, cared for in a timely and respectable fashion, and are honored is life as well as death helps us reason through our carnivorous ways.

Tasty will not only nourish our family in many ways, he was born and butchered locally.  His whole life and death he hasn't travelled more than five miles between farms and the butcher, helping the environment and the local economy is his legacy.  He provided us and some of our family friends with a new opportunity to learn about nature and nuturing.  His hide will be used by a friend of ours, a homeschooler who recently learned how to tan hides in h** studies and is interested in practicing what was learned and honing h** skills.  We'll also be providing eggs from our hens for the tanning process.

RIP Amos.
We love you and hope we made you feel at home and that you knew how much we respected you for all the maintenance you provided around here and the companionship you gave to the girls.  Watching you at your full grown size, come barreling toward us with a bucket of hay in our hands gave us mild heart palpitations, but you were always a kind and gentle old soul that would never hurt anyone intentionally. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Using Your Eggs :: The Best Way to Hard Cook Farm Fresh Eggs

The past couple years have been spent experimenting with ways to hard cook farm fresh eggs. Because, honestly, who wants to cook dozens of eggs for egg salad or devilled eggs and have the frustrations with peeling and leave all that egg white on the shell?

As a kid, i remember we'd boil eggs, give them a couple cracks on the counter, and the shell would peel off in one whole piece most of the time.  This was most likely because we were purchasing our eggs from the grocery store, where it can take up to 30 days just to get those eggs from the nest to a carton and in the store.  Not to mention, these eggs typically have a longer shelf life than the eggs from your local farmer because they are pasteurized.  

When an egg is fresh from the nest, it is a very low acid environment, which causes the egg white to adhere to the inner membrane of the shell.  As the egg ages, the acidity increases due to gas exchange through the egg shell, which reduces the powerful hold the egg white has on the inner membrane, making a hard cooked egg easier to peel.  Recommendations are to wait till the egg is 10 days old and use them for hard boiling.

Using this information, i tried boiling eggs that were two weeks old to just a few days away from their freshness date.  No luck.  I still left tons of egg white behind and ended up making way more egg salad, when what we really craved were devilled eggs.   Plus, what is worse than trying to fish an orb as hot as molten lava out of boiling pots of water?  Well, okay, being burned alive in a volcano is much worse than that, but really, cooking should be fun.  Unlike hanging around volcanoes oozing actual molten lava.

Research led me to the idea of oven baking hard cooked eggs, proclaiming that it was the answer to everyone's desires to have their farm fresh eggs and hard cook them too.  I found the results to be split for us.  Sometimes it seemed to work, but more often i experienced the same problem plus two new ones: ugly brown spots on the eggs whites and overcooked egg yolks.

Enter the next theory....steam!

I recently stumbled upon steaming eggs.  And i am happy to report it works like a dream!  I use my rice steamer and get the perfectly cooked eggs that peel like perfection.

Here's the basic idea, adaptable to your type of steamer (pot, bamboo, or appliance):

  1. Add enough water so your steamer won't run dry.  In my steamer i fill it to MAX levels.  In a pot, you may only need an inch or so of water.
  2. Place eggs inside your steamer, careful not to add too many.  In a steamer basket, 6 eggs at a time is the recommended amount for best results.
  3. Set the timer for 15 - 20 minutes and walk away.  This part is really dependent on the number of eggs in your basket.  The fewer eggs, and the smaller the basket i suppose, the less time it will take.  Play with it.  You can always under cook your eggs, and then put them back in for a little more time. :)
  4. Once the timer goes off, plunge steamed eggs into a bowl of ice water to cool.  They will still be extremely hot, but you can pick them up with a hot pad or towel.
  5. Wait at least 15 minutes before trying to puck an egg from the frozen depths and peel it.  I promise, you won't be disappointed.
Once they are refrigerated, hard cooked eggs will remain fresh for 5 - 7 days.  However, if you make devilled eggs out of them, i can guarantee they won't actually last that long. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Making changes in our lives and culture

A few years ago, my daytime employer provided something called the Pacific Institute Training for many of its employees.  It was done by a fellow from Seattle, but one of the big selling points to get people to sign up was that every year Pete Carroll would have this training brought to his football players at USC.

One of the philosophies I most remember about it was that your brain gets trained as to what is normal and expected in your life.  When things are out of the normal, your brain starts telling you that something is off kilter and you need to get things back to normal.  If makes you uncomfortable with it.  So, if you want to make changes in your life, you need to start thinking of the changes as a new normal.  You need to have a routine where you set goals and do self-talk as if these goals have already happened.  Your brain will start to believe this is your normal and, if this isn't happening, it will let you know that something needs to change to get to your normal.  You won't feel comfortable any more in your current normal.  You get a push to figure out what you need to do to make the changes you need to.

You then start doing things to get to the normal that you've convinced yourself you should have.  Several people I work with took this to heart and did the work and got the education they needed to get themselves promotions.  I have seen it in our lives where we saw our food wasn't what it used to be and wasn't what it should be.  We started raising chickens and growing veggies in our suburban yard, and we gradually  came to the belief that we belonged somewhere else.  We spent three years looking for where we felt we belonged - where our normal should be.  We're still haven't gotten to the point where we're settled in, and are always talking about adding cows or sheep or pigs, particularly when we're having a tough time finding the quality of food we're looking for without driving all over.

There were other parts of the training, and it must have made an impression on me, because I still remember them clearly years later.  Some of the things I've seen from the Seahawks seems like they come from that type of philosophy, and they have done extremely well in taking people who are convinced they should be successful, even in the face of people telling them they shouldn't be, and doing the work needed to make themselves that way, no matter what everyone else thinks or says about them.

I still hold on to this when I am discouraged, especially when I get out of the grocery store and read the ingredients on some of the "food" items there.  How can we change the momentum of the food industry in the face of the massive corporations that run it with the main interests in profits and convenience, rather than quality?  I feel the tide turning slowly.  One woman I work with just WENT OFF about genetically modified food this last week because of food issues she started dealing with over the last year.  She is convinced they are the cause of it.  Maybe the corporations are turning the tide themselves by producing and selling things that are harmful to more and more people.  We need to continue that change.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stretching Your Eggs and Your Dollars

The moment we've been waiting for two whole years is here:  we are utterly swimming in eggs!  This is so exciting after the devastation we endured last year.  It's almost like Mother Nature giving us a really awesome Christmas gift. :)

Even though we are swimming in them, strategy is still important to me.  I like to try to save as many as possible for dishes where the eggs are the highlight of the meal instead of buried in it, since organic eggs tend to be more expensive, yet well worth the cost.  I was checking our health food market today, and the same type of eggs we offer here at the farm (cage free, non-GMO, organically raised) sell for $10.19 per dozen!!

Sometimes we just need to bake though, right?  Holiday baking is where it's at, eh?

We are big Christmas bakers in this household.  We could go through a dozen eggs easily during a day of baking.  With eggs scarce this past year, I had to come up with some creative ways to stretch those we did get from our ladies, so we wouldn't need to buy any in addition to what we produced. And that meant breaking up the eggs into yolks and whites and seeing what could be done.  My plan worked so well, I wanted to share it with you.

My family has been keen on thumbprint cookies for what seems like all of forever.  They are Lil' Farmer Mac's favorite cookie.  Come to think of it, they were probably my favourite cookie too as a kid, because my mom and my grandpa always let me help them make a batch or three.  As far as I know, this recipe is my Grandpa's.  He was an ol' farm boy from Ohio.  I remember taking a trip back there with him when I was a little girl.  He showed me how to coax a baby cow into sucking your thumb and how to catch big green grasshoppers and fireflies.  He was one cool dude, and he loved his cookie baking.

The recipe only uses yolks.  Depending on the number of batches you make, you could end up with 1-4 eggs whites.  While scouring my cookbooks, many ideas jumped out at me:  tuile cookies, meringue, macaroons.  Martha Stewart has a fabulous looking recipe for Peppermint Meringues with chocolate filling.  We ended up making French macaronswhich you could just about get a cavity from reading all the recipes out there.  (You say you don't have a pastry bag?  No worries, you can use a plastic zip-top bag with one corner snipped to pipe the cookies.)

Macarons left us with more yolks, which were turned into manicotti filling.  Or you could turn them into Swedish meatballs.

Surprisingly, after all this was prepared, we still had 6 eggs left for Eggs in a Window in the morning.

Grandpa's Thumbprint Cookies

Grandpas or Daddies are the best assistants when making these cookies because their thumbs tend to be bigger.  The bigger the thumbprint, the more delicious jam you can pack in!

1 cup butter (Grandpa used Crisco.  I'll let you be the judge.)
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar (1/2 cup would even do)
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 - 1/2 cups all purpose flour
jam or fruit spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix shortening, cream cheese, and sugar until well blended.  Stir in egg yolk and vanilla.  Add flour; mix well.  Roll into about 1 inch balls, place on lined cookie sheet, and make a thumbprint in each cookie.  Fill with approximately 1/2 teaspoon of jam.  Bake 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown around the bottom edges.  Please, please let them cool on the sheet pan.  The jam is searing hot.  These cookies are delectable, but not worth a trip to the Burn Unit.  

And if you've just plain run out of eggs, here's a bonus cookie recipe that doesn't need any eggs. :)


Reprinted by popular demand from Seattle’s Child, December 1981.

In our family, the spicy odor of pepparkakor baking in the oven heralds the beginning of the holiday season. Pepparkahor (Scandinavian ginger cookies) not only taste wonderful but are also durable enough to decorate a Christmas tree or to be given as gifts, when shaped like ginger people, hearts, pigs or birds and decorated with white icing swirls and a red ribbon bow. While these are traditional shapes, I remember, there is no limit to the shapes they can take when you make your own cardboard cutout patterns. Trimming the tree with cranberries, popcorn, paper snowflakes and homemade cookies brings us back to an earlier era when life was simpler.

The following recipe was used by my aunt, Stina Hurlen, who is from Dalarna, Sweden and was well-known for her excellent Scandinavian cooking. It will yield enough cookies to trim a small tree and can be doubled successfully. The dough keeps well in the freezer.

½ lb. butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup  (We use molasses. decide.)
½ pint sour cream
1 tsp. allspice
2 T. cinnamon
1 T. ginger
1 T. cloves
1 tsp. baking soda
4-5 cups flour

Combine the butter, sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture comes to a slow simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Blend in spices and sour cream.
Add soda and flour, a little at a time, until well-blended.
The dough will be soft. Shape into a roll, wrap well and refrigerate overnight or for as long as a week. Unused portions can be frozen.

To Shape the Cookies
With a floured rolling pin, start rolling portions of the chilled dough on a well-floured board, then transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet and with a floured rolling pin roll the dough directly onto the cookie sheet to 1/8-inch thick.
Cut with cookie cutters or with a sharp knife cut around cardboard patterns you and your children have made. Lift away dough between the cookies.
Bake in a 325 oven for 10-15 minutes or until browned. Cool on the pan before removing.

To Decorate
Typically, these cookies are decorated with a white icing such as Royal Icing or use your favorite decorating icing or buy decorating icing in tubes at the grocery. Press the icing through a decorating tube with a plain tip, making swirls, writing names, and designs on the cookies. Allow the frosting to dry before hanging or storing the gifts.

To Hang the Cookies
Use regular sewing thread and a fine needle. Support the cookie from behind and carefully insert the needle and thread through the cookie at least ½ to ¾ inch from the top center. Leave enough thread to form a loop large enough to fit over tree branches. Or for gift cookies, attach a small red satin or yarn bow to the top center of each cookie. 

–Sonia Cole 

We'll have oodles of eggs for the foreseeable future, so if you are in need of some from the holidays, pay us a visit.  By the by, farm fresh eggs make FANTASTIC stocking stuffers. :)

What are your favourite baked goods for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe to Remember

It was only the second time that i was in charge of The Bird.  Making me especially anxious was the fact that i was making the bird for my folks and their there anything more stressful than a peer performance review at the Thanksgiving table?  For sure the time crunch is a close second.

Coincidentally, my dad and i had happened to stumble upon the directions for a 45 Minute Turkey around the same time.  Mark Bittman's instructions for roasting turkey this way in his How to Cook Everything book was my inspiration, and i concocted the ingredients myself.  So this time of year, with my folk's encouragement, i decided to try something new.

The premise of a 45 minute bird is to flatten ol' Tom Turkey out, so that all the meat roasts on an even plane.  I cut out the backbone out of an eleven pound bird, flatten the breastbones, and tucked the wings under so they wouldn't block the breast meat.  I also learned that tying the legs together would be helpful to.  You could also part out the whole bird, but i wanted to save what i could of the idea of "presentation".

Next i made a compound butter with chopped rosemary, orange zest, and salt and pepper and a brick (two sticks) of butter.  Hold onto this for later. :)

On a roasting pan or cookie sheet, i placed one sliced onion, sliced orange, three chopped carrots and celery sticks (i used the inside part with the leaves and all), and 12 cloves of garlic.  There were whole sprigs of rosemary and leaves of sage that i laid on top of the veg as well.  On top of that, i placed the bird, and rubbed him down with butter, under the skin as well as on top.

Into a 450 degree F oven he went, where he was ignored for 20 minutes.  After that time, turn down the oven to 350 and baste him a little.  I didn't have much juice in the pan, so i used chicken stock to baste him.

Twenty minutes into the process.
After another 15 minutes, i took his temperature.  He was already measuring 155 - 160 degrees F, which is what was recommended as the finishing temperature.  We didn't know if we could trust this, so we put him back in the oven at 325 and stuck him in for another 10 minutes, after basting of course.

We took him out of the oven, tented him with foil, and waited 30 minutes.

And this is how he turned out!!  The meat was so moist and still pink in the middle.  Normally we're sawing through the dried out turkey breasts when i cook it.  And the best thing was he was done in 45 minutes, leaving plenty of time for cooking a couple side dishes and a batch of rolls.   He did pick up a lot of orange flavour, which we found refreshing, but if that isn't your style, you might want to leave out the zest or the slices.

This preparation makes me think we should eat turkey more often!!

How was your Thanksgiving turkey?  Any unusual recipes your family loves?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Lil Farmer Mac has been helping work on this video for you.  If nothing else, may we provide you with a bit of cheap entertainment this holiday season.

Thanks to all who supported us this year.  We really appreciate your encouragement, more than you know. 

The Mactutis Family

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gingerbread Granola

In an effort to reduce the use of boxed cereal in our diet, I make Farmer Mike's granola from a recipe his mom developed when he was young.  It was so kind of her to share that because it is his favourite thing on earth for breakfast.

It dawned on me one day that gingerbread spices thrown in with a homemade granola recipe might just be the perfect marriage of Christmas tradition and breakfast cereal. And best yet, if your low on eggs, as we are around here, there's none required for this recipe.  Which makes it a sure thing for food gift giving that we tend to do this time of year.  To make this even easier, we tend to make up batches of just the dry ingredients and store them away, so it's even quicker to make up a batch of homemade granola.  I suppose the dry ingredients could be packed in a jar, and given like those popular soup or cookie in a jar gifts.

Gingerbread Granola

8 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup wheat germ

1 teaspoon allspice
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 Tablespoon powdered ginger
1 Tablespoon cloves
(spices are highly subjective--more or less is up to you.)  :)

1 cup oil of any kind
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/4 molasses

1 to 1.25 cups of water

Mix all dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients to the top.  Note with the water, that you'll want to use just enough to make the oats clump together.  Spread on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 225 - 250 degree F for 30 minutes.  Then use a spatula to break up the clumps and turn the granola over.  Bake for another 30 - 60 minutes, until the clumps are rather dry and toasty.  Let cool.

Storing: At this point, you can make your homemade granola more nutritious by adding nuts, seeds, or dried fruit.   Add as little or as much as you'd like.  We tend to store it simply as it comes out of the oven, then we dress it up as we like on an individual basis. 

You can't even imagine how good this tasted for dinner last night with chopped pecans and eggnog, instead of milk.  It was like having dessert for dinner.  :)