Tuesday, May 29, 2012

expressing one's farmness

Tonight the Mister and I went on a drive. As old people, we sometimes drive around seemingly aimlessly, not because we're lost, but because we are found.

No, this is not a tent revival.

As we were driving, I counted no less than 5 empty barns. Once upon a time, these were thriving homesteads, with the farm owners taking pride in the places they were keeping. Now as the old-timers are heading to their eternal homes, the farms are standing empty. Or worse. They are housing city-folk posing as country-folk. Sound harsh? Not when you see a perfectly good 5 acre field being mowed with a lawnmower, and the only animal on the property is a frou-frou dog who sees the groomer as often as I see the inside of the refrigerator.

Chickens expressing their chickeness.

What I saw broke my heart. And this old farm girl even shed a few tears for all that has been lost. Whether it's a lack of motivation, exorbitant taxes/upkeep, or shortage of funds, these small homesteads are disappearing. Soon, the big beautiful barns will be gone, replaced by housing developments and acres of concrete. And once this happens, the farms will never come back. It's referred to as progress. The homes they were replaced with will be replaced by even bigger homes, or worse, concrete jungles with soaring buildings as far as the eye can see.

Cows expressing their cowness.

I guess what I'm sad about is the fact that society as a rule, thinks that being a farmer is beneath them. It is the work of peasants. It is not a noble profession. 

Society as a rule, is pretty clueless.

Here's the thing. I don't care if you live on a corner city lot, or in a high-rise apartment with a view of another high-rise building. I don't care if you live in subsidized housing, or in a trailer in a park. You may be lucky enough to live on an old homestead with a big old barn that is just, well, old. Or you may live in a subdivision with neighbors who share the same schedules as yourself. It doesn't matter where you lay your head at night, what matters is what you do with it while you're awake. Maybe you only have room to plant 1 bucket with a tomato plant in it. You're a farmer. Be the best tomato farmer you can be. Maybe you only have room for a couple of backyard chickens. Well, be the best chicken farmer that you can be. If you can plant a seed, grow a fruit tree, or even have room for larger animals, you are a farmer

Turkey's expressing their...oh, never mind. They were just happy to see us!

Living in the country doesn't make one a farmer. Or a homesteader. It's what you do with it that matters. 
Be the best farmer you can be in the place you are planted. 

And encourage others to do the same.

This post is linked to Dandelion House's Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop,
The Homestead Barn Hop

Monday, May 28, 2012

Kefir Ranch Dressing

 I usually consider myself a pretty good speller. After all, I did take first place in my 6th grade spelling bee 33 (*cough) years ago. And let me tell you, it wasn't enough to just spell the words, I had to be able to say the words before and after I spelled them. Not to brag or anything, but the winning word for me was, antidisestablishmentarianism.

Okay, I was bragging, but I've still got it. (Although I did lose at the district level to a pimply boy with a squeaky voice. My downfall was the word conscience. Seriously. I still think someone was messin' with me.)

Where my spelling skills seem to leave me is when I'm trying to decipher the back of a salad dressing bottle. Standing in the store trying to sound out words is not what an almost 45 year old woman on a mission should be doing. Words like; phosphoric acid, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, monosodium glutamate, disodium phosphate tend to leave my brain spinning and my spell check working overtime. I shouldn't have to borrow my Mister's smart phone to look up ingredients. (That is, if you can convince the smart phone to not keep changing the word you've typed in!) Face it, a smart phone is never really smart enough to outsmart the salad dressing people. Then there are the unmentionables following the hard to pronounce words. And by unmentionables, I mean instead of listing the remaining ingredients, the makers of the dressing use the words, artificial flavors, which either means they don't know or their spell check went into melt-down mode.

I'm going to stick with my sixth grade winning word. It's much easier to say than trying to read labels. I'm also going to stick to my new favorite dressing, Kefir Ranch, whose ingredients I can spell.

Not that I'm planning a spelling rematch anytime soon. I'm much too busy enjoying my salad instead of trying to decipher it.☺

~Kefir Ranch Dressing~

1 cup plain kefir (homemade or store-bought, but unsweetened)
2 Tb. olive oil
1/2 t. sea salt
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. dill weed
1 t. onion powder
1 Tb. dried parsley

Put all ingredients into a lidded pint jar. Shake it up and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend. 


*Kefir is a probiotic drinkable yogurt. If you haven't tried it, dairy kefir is a great way to get some friendly bacteria into the gut. It makes a great base for smoothies~we even make kefir popsicles with our leftover smoothies. Most grocery stores carry kefir in their dairy or heath food departments. And if you're feeling brave, try making your own! You can find cultures for kefir here.

This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunflower Muffins

If you've followed my blog for very long, you'll know that in January, my daytime life changed with the discovery of Banana Nut Muffins. Oh my. These are the nectar of the monkey gods, and a throne plate from which I will gladly bow to eat from for the rest of my life.

Then I did. Not for the rest of my life, but for the last 5 months these muffins have been a staple of my new gluten-free morning lifestyle.

But as life usually does, a monkey wrench was thrown into the mix. (Pun wasn't intended, but I left it there, so I guess now it's intended by default. And being too lazy to change it. Cause that's how I roll.)
I ran out of shelled walnuts. Yes, I could have shelled more, but operating a nut cracker under the influence of only 1 cup of coffee while wearing a bathrobe could be construed as a dangerous task. At least, that's what the warning label should say.

Then something wonderful happened.

My daughter went to a women's tea at our church where one of the door prizes was a cookbook called, "Gluten, Wheat, and Dairy Free." She didn't win it, but the lovely lady who did allowed my sweet girl to bring it home for me to peruse. And I did. Then I photo-copied half the book. I'm sure there is some copyright laws I may or may not have broken, but I was desperate for something new. Something different. Something that didn't involve dangerous kitchen equipment.

I must warn you though, these muffins are like sunshine in a cup. Or muffin tin. Or cupcake liner. They cause spontaneous smiling, and unintentional moaning. You should also know that Sunflower Muffins freeze well, so double the batch and save some for later.

By the way, I felt a little guilty about the whole copyright infringement thing, so I bought my own copy of the book. Just in case they were serious about their reserved rights...☺

~Sunflower Muffins~

~The Players~
*2-1/2 c. gluten-free flour blend (see my recipe below)
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. xanthan gum
1 t. ground allspice
2/3 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
3 medium organic carrots, grated
zest and juice of 1 organic orange
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. unsweetened almond milk (can use regular milk if desired)
1/3 c. plus 2 Tb. sunflower oil
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F. Place 12 baking cups into the muffin pan. (I LOVE silicone muffins cups!)

Sift the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, and allspice into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar.

Add the carrots, 3 Tb. of the sunflower seeds, and the orange zest.

Lightly beat together the orange juice, eggs, almond milk, oil, and vanilla with a whisk.

Stir the wet mix into the dry ingredients, mixing to make a batter~it will be a little lumpy.

Spoon the batter into the baking cups and sprinkle with remaining sunflower seeds.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and the centers are set. Serve warm.

*My gluten-free all-purpose flour blend is:
1 cup white or brown rice flour
2/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour

Mix together and store in a sealed jar.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

when "booch" goes boom...

Rarely do I ever post pictures of life's little "oopses." Partly because I try to always be uplifting, encouraging, and full of hope.


But mostly, it's a pride issue. 

And I'm not too proud to admit that, so there's progress for ya.

Lately I've been making a lot of kombucha. And because it spends most of it's brewing life hidden in a cupboard too high for me to peak into without some extra effort, via a step stool, I sometimes forget about it.

Today was one of those days. Actually, a week ago was one of those days, but today I paid for it.

This is what happens when the kombucha, or "booch" gets even.

 In my new-found knowledge of "booch" making, I've learned that kombucha doesn't like to be ignored. And I've learned that when a 15 year old panics, she forgets to aim the exploding bottle south and lets the kombucha  travel north, east, and west equally. South happened when the bottle was almost empty. Which was kind of irrelevant at that point.

 I learned that even passersby aren't immune to the wrath of the "booch." And did you know that elderberries when left to dry on the hair, become crunchy? Ya learn something new everyday.

I learned that every single dirty word I've ever heard, has the ability to explode out of my subconscious at the exact same moment the "booch" hits the wall. Thankfully, they didn't explode out of my mouth.

I've learned that I have more self-control than I thought.

I learned the importance of sealing tiled back splashes. 

And floors. Which is now on the list of things to do.

I learned that an elderberry under pressure has the ability to travel a full 40 feet before slamming into a window, wall, or human. I also learned that chia seeds under the same pressure sting when they hit the skin.

Finally, I've learned that nobody in the house actually cares for the elderberry/ginger/chia kombucha anyway.

So now, I'm learning to laugh at the "oopses."

And clean ceilings from a step stool.☺

Sunday, May 20, 2012

how NOT to keep records

Someone once told me in order to be a good farmer, one must keep good records.

On our farm though, being a good farmer is knowing where the cows are at all times. Especially if half the fence is falling down. (Don't tell the cows~they haven't noticed. Yet.)

Since we're losing more money at this farming thing then making it, records haven't seemed all that important. We know that we spend more on goat, chicken, turkey, dog, and cat food than we do on human food. We know that during haying season, the whole family working our tails off together gets us a reduced price of about $800 for 300 bales. We also know that half of that hay goes to waste because our cows are a little finicky and the goats won't touch it unless they're squatting on it.

But record-keeping? We never saw the need. Until now.

Both of our girls are in a delicate state.

Just don't call Bailey fat. She gets a little testy. Since Bailey went the traditional method of run-around-a-pasture-until-the-bull-catches-up, she could be due anytime between mid-July and mid-September. It all depends on when she got tired of running. And since she's done this a few times, we're not too worried.

Tilly-mook is a different story. She went the got-tied-to-a-fencepost-and-hope-she's-not-allergic-to-latex method, otherwise known as AI (or artificial insemination). Because of our poor record keeping skills, she could have gotten pregnant during any of the 5 times we paid the AI man to visit.

According to our farm books, a cow is pregnant approximately 280 days. So I took last year's calendar (because I keep everything for absolutely no reason at all) and started counting from each heat cycle we kept track of.

Tilly could have gotten pregnant on October 1, which would put her due date on July 7.

Or October 22 with a due date of July 28.

Or November 12 with a due date in mid-August.

According to my calendar, a pregnancy could have happened on December 3rd or 24th too. But since it was close to Christmas, I'm going to rule those out.

We were too broke to pay the AI man and I was busy eating pie.

I'll pencil her in for July 28. It just so happens that we're free that weekend.☺

This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop and The Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the day I forgot to read the label

Since going gluten-free, I've found it's not enough to assume that everyone understands what gluten-free means. Most people consider it a fad, like wearing bell bottoms, wooden clogs, or underwear on the outside of their clothing, thinking if they just wait long enough, this too shall pass. Those are choices (albeit, stupid ones if I'm being honest here) that will go away once the attention is off of them. But what if being gluten-free isn't a choice?

Recently, while visiting a local health food store, I found out how little people actually understand. There were a couple of gals handing out samples, touting the fact that these were gluten-free samples. Believing that these representatives of these particular companies knew what they were talking about, I sampled without reading the labels for myself.

Then I went to hell and back paying for my lack of attention to detail.

I've never in my whole life felt the kind of pain that I experienced that day. My Mister, who is a registered nurse, asked me what my pain number was. For the record, I've never fully understood rating pain in that way. If I go to the emergency room, it's bad. Period. But apparently, not all who visit the emergency room understand what constitutes an emergency. I did. For the first time in my life, I was a 10. Not a Bo Derek running-across-the-beach-with-my-braids-a-flappin' kind of 10, but the I-don't-care-if-Mr.-so-and-so-is-having-a-heart-attack-in-the-next-room-HELP-ME-FIRST kind of 10. I was literally minutes from heading to the hospital.

Here are a couple of guidelines that I am learning to follow:

1. If in doubt, go without. This has been a difficult one. I really wanted a caramel latte one day. The barista didn't know whether the caramel was gluten free or not. So I took a chance. Then I paid for it. In retrospect, I really didn't want the caramel latte that badly!

2. Wheat free does not mean that it's gluten-free. Wheat is only one of the grains that contains gluten. Others are rye, barley, triticale, semolina, kamut, graham, durum, faro, and spelt. Corn and oats are gluten free, but only if they are certified as such. Don't assume that they are without that label.

3. Call ahead. When dining out, it is important to stay away from restaurants that are clearly not gluten-free. Italian is an obvious one, but did you know that Asian food is not allergy friendly? It doesn't have to be breaded to contain gluten.

4. When dining out, always ask for food to be prepared without the sauce. Many restaurants will cater to special diets because they want your business. A happy customer is a repeat customer! And we usually bring friends when we're happy.☺

5. Food in a health food store does not mean that it's good for you. If you buy a processed, gluten-free cookie, it is still a processed cookie. Make it a treat, not a way of life.

6. Most recipes can be made gluten-free. My favorite "all-purpose" flour is:

1 cup white rice flour
2/3 cup sorghum flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour/starch

Sift together and store in an air-tight container. 

This resembles white flour the best. Brown rice flour can be substituted for the white and will pack more fiber into the recipe. (When baking with it, expect a darker appearance.)

Xanthan or guar gum helps to bind gluten-free baked goods together. The general rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon for each cup of flour used in cookies, cakes, muffins, and other quick breads and 1 teaspoon per cup of flour for yeasted breads. 

7. When entertaining, always ask your guests if they have any special diet restrictions. Before my food allergies took me down this path, I never thought to ask. Ever. When I was in grade school, buying a hot lunch was considered a treat. Most of us brought our own lunches. And most of us had the same thing; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you were one of the lucky ones, your mom made them on white Wonderbread. (I was not one of the lucky ones. We usually had the dried out cheap store brand that was purchased 3/$1.00~how's that for dating myself?)

Those were the kids to target for a trade. 

What I wouldn't give for a Wonderbread P.B.&J. now.

On second thought...☺
So, the lesson here is to always read labels. It is to never assume that any person handing out samples at a store, recipes on a blog, or menus in a restaurant understands the true meaning of gluten-free. Never assume that a home you are visiting understands either. The lesson is to look out for yourself. To double check everything. And to get educated. This goes for any food allergy. And while mine may have not been life-threatening (Although, if those sample gals would've been standing before me, I could not in good conscience have guaranteed their safety!), there are people whose allergies can be deadly.

And it's better to err on the side of caution. Always.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No Barn? No Problem!

On June 5, we will have lived in our current home for 10 years. Ten years of incredible views. Ten years of enough room to stretch our legs. Ten years of making this place our own. 

It's also been 10 years since we had a barn. And oh, how I've missed the barn. 

So we did what any homesteading, barn-dreaming, cattle owner would do.

We made our own. 

Actually, since this area had at one time been a place to feed cows, we decided to bring it back to its former glory. And because we have 2 cows due to give birth in just a few weeks, glory needed to happen now.

First we bladed off behind the already existing shop.

The soon-to-be barn area before the walls came tumblin' down.
I say "we" like I had anything to do with it. Really, it was my Mister and first-born man cub.

The pre-existing poop trough that used to be buried in grass and old hay.
Next we started tearing down walls. 

And this time, I really do mean "we."

Demolition is no excuse not to be a lady. That, and my jeans were on the clothesline.

Apparently, we're not the only ones celebrating 10 years in this place.

Somebody may have screamed like a girl when a little scamperer came scootin' out of the wall.

I don't like scamperer's.

We also tore down the inside walls that used to be a heated cabinet shop. 

We only build barn areas, not cabinets.

While I was busy gettin' er done,

my Mister was busy teaching the kids the importance of safety on the job.

I'm sure that's what he was doing.

We put our youngest to work pulling out nails, 

but he said he's union and demanded a break.

Canoeing in the drainage ditch.

In the ceiling next to the far wall, there is a hay chute.That seems like a pretty good place to start building the feed manger and stanchion's.

But we'll save that for another day.

We're pooped.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Scoby Dooby Brew

Black tea kombucha on the left, green/white tea kombucha on the right.

Sometimes I amaze myself. No seriously. It has nothing to do with pride either. Anyone who has ever walked out of the public bathroom at Target with the paper toilet seat cover attached to the bottom of their boot knows no pride.

Not that I have firsthand knowledge of that...

Kombucha is one of those things that surprised even me. I know that drinking kombucha regularly helps with digestion. I know that it helps to detoxify the body, is rich in anti-oxidants, and boosts the immune system. And while I've enjoyed many bottles of the store-bought stuff (at a ridiculous $2.99/bottle), the thought of making it myself was downright intimidating. And lets be honest here-it just seems wrong. For anyone who hasn't a clue of what I'm talking about, here it is in a nutshell...you take perfectly good sweet tea, add a slimy, not-from-this-world entity, place it in a dark cupboard, and let it rot. (Sort of.)

Then you drink it.

And you like it.

Unless you forget to strain it first. But I'll get back to that in a moment...

There are many websites devoted to the making of kombucha, so I'll let you Google those for the "how-to's", but I'll share some tips I've learned in my own kombucha journey. Kombucha is tea + water + sugar + a scoby. Scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Yeast and Bacteria and should never be confused with Scooby Doo. To keep them separate, I've named mine Karl. A scoby (otherwise known as a "mother" or a "mushroom") can be grown from a starter culture, from a friend's baby scoby (they multiply), or even made from store-bought, raw kombucha.

Sweetened black tea before the scoby is added.

1. When making a gallon of kombucha, heat 4 cups filtered water until almost boiling. Add 4 tea bags (black, green, white, oolong, loose-leaf, etc.) and let steep for 15 minutes. Squeeze the teabags and add 1 cup organic sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Pour into a gallon jar. Add 8 cups of room temperature filtered water to the jar and stir again. The tea will be the perfect temperature for the scoby. (Too hot will kill Karl.) Add the scoby and starter liquid to the tea. (It should be 1-2 cups liquid from a previous batch.) Place a towel or coffee filter over the top and secure with a rubber band. (Big thanks to my friend Sarah for the brewing tip and for Karl!)

2. Kombucha likes to ferment in the dark. It likes to be left alone. It also like peace and quiet.  Especially when in the bathroom. Oh wait, that last one is me. But it's never going to happen. A girl can dream though...

The brew should be left alone for at least 7 days. Smell it to make sure it smells vinegary, but not like rotting garbage. If it's the latter, you'll need to toss it and start over with a new culture.

An over-the-fridge cabinet is a perfect place for the kombucha~and with a boost, maybe Mom.

 3. Fermenting kombucha is kind of artsy looking. And nothing to be alarmed about. The picture below is my green/white kombucha at 10 days. This scoby was on it's second batch, so it is fairly new. We grew this one from the store-bought kombucha.

The yeast strands are a sign that the kombucha is healthy.

4. Kombucha is best when it's flavored. Because the bacteria feeds on the sugar, the tea is no longer sweet. Some people like to drink kombucha plain, but flavoring it makes it palatable for everyone.

Never use metal when working with kombucha~you can find plastic mesh strainers online.

Here are some of our favorite flavorings~

*Fresh-squeezed lemon juice and a chunk of peeled ginger
*Lemon juice with a handful of blueberries (if using frozen, thaw slightly first)
*Organic mixed berry juice (100% juice)
*Cherry juice and fresh-squeezed lime juice
*Cherry juice and pure vanilla extract
*Fresh-squeezed lemon and lime
*Elderberry (we use dried)

5. After kombucha is flavored, it can be placed back in the dark cabinet (with a tightly screwed on plastic lid) and left to build up carbonation for 2-3 more days. If carbonation isn't your thing, or you're really impatient, you can drink it now. Personally, I think the added carbonation is worth the wait.

It's best to mark it on a calendar just in case the memory isn't what it used to be.

6. Flavored and carbonated kombucha is best served over ice.

After it's been strained.

Because if you don't strain it, the little baby scoby that will start to form on top of your beverage may or may not cause the gagging reflex to kick into overdrive. Especially if it gets stuck and just sort of dangles down the back of the throat. Which could cause a person to not want to drink kombucha ever again.

Which is why I'm so amazed at myself.

I've mastered the art of straining.☺

This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.

This post is linked to The Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.