Thursday, September 30, 2010

Siddhartha and Montana Friendly

One thing you must learn when living in Montana is that things never get done fast.  I love this place and the people, but one thing you must be aware of is if you go to a neighbor's house, prepare to spend at least an hour talking.  It's just not civilized, otherwise.

It's not that people don't have things to do, it's just that everything happens on Montana time.  My neighbor, Kate, who is a really nice lady, had a tonsillectomy a few days ago and wanted eggs.  So, I brought them.  We got to talking.  We were soon talking about Sid the llama (she wants me to name him Siddhartha)  and all the happening in the neighborhood.  Before I knew it, her husband had come home and I had to go back and explain Sid and the entire circumstance again.  It's really like people love stories and catching up with what's going on.  "...so and so tells me that the doe and the fawn is all that is left of the herd..." and "so and so has a friend staying in a yurt behind his house and the mountain lion came by the other night..."  You have to admit, it's pretty interest stuff here. 

I found out some interesting news about Sid.   His old name may have pointed to a line of llamas known as Ten Mile packing llamas.  So, he might be from that pedigree, which is cool, but seeing as he's a gelding, he won't be passing that line along anytime.

As I went back to see Sid, I noticed he's hanging out looking and waiting for me.  That's way cool.  He's a very happy llama now.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eggs and Determined Minorcas


Yesterday I made the long trip into Florence, Montana to pick up some Marans eggs.  Marans are the chickens that lay really dark chocolate eggs and I've been wanting more than just two chicks out of the hatches.  The person who gave them to me is a friend and she warned me that a little Minorca Bantam rooster got in with the hens at one point.  She thought it was unlikely he could've mated with the full sized  hens, but I've always felt that nature has a way of messing up our best attempts.

 So, she gave me the eggs free.  I'm willing to see if I end up with half bantam Minorcas and half Marans for the price of waiting and a little electricity.  ("If they have white earlobes, you'll know...")  So, now I have a bunch of eggs in the incubator.  To this end, I added a schedule to the right so you can follow along on all the fun.

I think that's it for hatching this year -- unless I don't get more turkeys!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Llamas, Turkey Eggs and Farmer's Markets

Sometimes you come across something free that's hard to resist.  And who can resist that face?  Meet Sid, my "free" llama.  The woman who got my refrigerator asked if I wanted a free llama because she didn't want to feed him during the winter.  He was the odd critter out in her horse herd and basically doing nothing.  So, I took him.

He's a trained pack llama and despite needing a good brush and a shave next spring, and being on the thin side, he's a cool beast.  He hasn't been handled by people a lot, but I got far with him yesterday and today, getting him to accept me touching him all over and even getting him to pick up his front feet for me.  He's in his glory packing, so I took him for a walk and used commands and he was very good.  I'm going to use him for packing, in case you were wondering.

On another note, I got my Merriam turkey eggs today!  Merriam turkeys are a type of wild turkey and one we have here in Montana.  I checked the regs and I'm good as long as I don't let them range with the wild turkeys.  That's easy enough -- a separate pen and I'm good.  I'm hoping to hatch out the four of them.

I've discovered I really like the turkey personality.  Currently Thanksgiving Tom is my only turkey and well, you can guess what date with destiny he has.  The Merriams would be a welcome addition to the flock.

All this eclipsed the market, of course.  And yet, I was able to get peaches, honeycrisp apples, melons, strawberries, cheese, butter, bison, carrots, kale, onions, salad mix, tomatoes, peppers and other yummy things.  Gosh, I wish the market would never end -- but the last day is October 23rd.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Roosters!


Well, I adopted four roosters from a woman who didn't want to feed them over the winter.  That seems to be a common occurrence with livestock and Montana.  These roos are skinny and need to gain weight.  I suspect they were primarily free-ranged -- if not totally free-ranged.  I figure in a month's time, they'll be ready for freezer camp.

Two Barred Rocks and the Brahma
I will admit that they're awfully pretty.  They are two barred rocks, one bird that looks like a Rhode Island Red to me but the woman said was a New Hampshire Red, and a Brahma.  I'm really partial to the Brahma which is a very big bird.  He's very impressive and has feathered feet.  Anyway, I thought I'd post picts of the birds.

Light Brahma
These guys were starving when I fed them, chowing down on 10 lbs of food in 24 hours.  That's a lot.  Now, granted I have a turkey and two ducks with them, but these guys don't suck down that much food.  I think when they get used to eating on a schedule, they'll chill out.  In the meantime, they'll just get fat.  Oh well -- that's really what I want.

They're pretty mild-mannered roosters too.  This morning I got up and found that I had 3 roosters in the pen.  One was missing.  So, after looking around, I found the RIR in the geese pen, cowering by the dog houses.

The barn went from being only moderately noisy to very noisy with five roosters crowing at each other and when I picked up one rooster, they all went into an alarm cluck which sounds like an egg song.  All the chickens picked it up and I got to hear buc-buc-buc-BAWK! at the top of their lungs.  It was cute, if noisy.  Even the 4 week old chicks cheeped in.

The RIR or NHR Roo
On another note, I have 10 eggs in the incubator.  Hopefully Blue Orpingtons and Easter Eggers.  I want an Easter Egger roo and a couple of blue orpingtons.  I'll take splashes like the last chick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Heirloom Breeds and Single Points of Failure

In my other life, I was a rocket scientist.

Seriously.

Heritage breeds are important
I know I harp on about the large conglomerate farms, but with good reason.  You see, as a rocket scientist and an engineer, I was trained to set up redundant systems.  That meant that if some system went ten toes up, there was always another backup system to take over.  The idea was to build in redundancy and not rely on just one mechanism to ensure the system stayed up.  This basic principle stayed with me whether it was nuclear weapons, satellites, cable TV or telephones.  Unfortunately, there's no planned redundancy when it comes to biological stock and our food source.

I was surprised at first to read about endangered domestic breeds.  I picked up a book called Pocketful of Poultry and read how most of the breeds qualify as endangered or worse.  When we think of endangered animals, we think of wild animals, but that's not always the case.  The current food industry uses mostly one or two types of animals to produce food for most people.  Using chickens as an example, the number one laying bird in the US is the white leghorn.  For brown eggs, most industrial producers use ISA Browns -- a cross between New Hampshire Reds and Rhode Island Red.  For meat chickens, producers use exclusively Plymouth Rock/ Cornish Crosses.  As a result, breeds that were once commonplace are now rare and a huge percentage -- up to 50% -- of ancestral chicken genetics are gone for good.

This isn't just with chickens either.  Throughout our agriculture, we're turning it into a monoculture that will have devastating results. Don't believe me?  Take a page from history of more that 1 million dead Irish in the potato famine, the various rice famines and wheat crop failures. When you're dependent on one crop and if that crop fails, you'll begin to understand the need for diversity. What happens when we're limited to one or two types of animals or crops for food and disease hits it?  Animals with more diverse genetics may be resistant to disease that one within a monoculture may be susceptible to.  And do we really want to have only one or two breeds provide us food?  It is a shame if we lose part of our agricultural history because it doesn't fit the current agriculture system.

So, how can you change this?  Easily.  Start buying heritage produce and grains.  Learn where your meat and eggs comes from and buy from heritage herds and flocks.  You can find this out by buying from farmer's markets and organic food stores.  Start thinking about where your food comes from.  Something as simple as that can change industry.  If enough people care and request natural and heritage foods, that will cause the food industry to offer more variety.  Look how popular organic and heritage foods are already.  By simple changes in your buying habits you can help change the way agribusiness functions.

There's an interesting article about the subject of heritage breeds and genetic diversity. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Bread Baking and Other Slow Foods

Today was Farmer's Market Day and I bought a lot of food.  I bought purple kale, celery, fennel, potatoes, salad mix, cherry tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, beef, cucumbers, green pepper, carrots, honey-o melon (a cross between cantaloupe and honeydew), peas and corn.  I bought beef because the woman who sells the bison wasn't there, but despite this being "natural beef," the price tag wasn't outrageous.  I bought ground beef and a cheap cut called mock tenders that the rest of the world hasn't discovered yet.  It's relatively tender and is a mock fillet mignon, but has a cheap price.  I've never tried the beef version, but the bison version on the barbecue is very good.  I made Badlands Pepper Steak with it and it came out very good.

I need an egg basket.  My chickens laid 11 eggs today which made it almost impossible to carry the eggs.  I shall check Freecycle to see if someone has one.

I've heard the term "slow foods" used quite a bit.  It's a comparison to fast foods that we all have eaten in the past.  Slow foods are more economical, healthier and better for you.  If you're into saving the planet, they're also supposedly more eco-friendly, but I don't know the rationale behind this.  I'm not too worried about saving the planet, but I do believe in saving money and not wasting, so if I do that and someone who worries about such things applauds me, then there you go.

Slow food was the kind of food I pretty much grew up on.  My mom made her own stock and soups, cooked her own homemade dinners and whatnot.  I've had to relearn some of those skills because I wasn't interested in such things while younger.  Now, I am but because I feel better eating organic and unprocessed foods and the only way to really eat these things is to cook your own meals.  What's more, my husband travels a lot and has to eat out, so eating in is special for him.  He would rather eat homemade food than go out, and nowadays, there's so little out there that tastes better than what I cook at home. 

One of the things I have learned is to use work-saving appliances to cook meals.  I have arthritis from writing and martial arts, so I need to use whatever aids I can.  My mom's old Cuisinart gets used constantly to slice and cut up vegetables and meat.  I use a bread machine to knead dough.  I also use mixers instead of mixing food by hand.  I pop everything in the dishwasher because I don't have time to scrub.

Baking bread is truly a joy when you use a bread machine.  The hard part is pretty much taken out if you mix everything with the dough cycle and then put it in the pan for the final rise.  I made a honey-wheat bread that was very sweet and tasty.  When you take out the kneading portion, making bread is a snap -- and it's so cheap too by comparison.  I realized that for pennies I was making bread that I would purchase for $2 to $5.  Tomorrow, we'll have hamburgers and I'll make burger buns from scratch.  These buns are better than anything I buy at the store.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gingerbread Muffins


Today, I decided to check out some recipes in Prairie Home Breads. This book I got from the Book Exchange in Missoula.


It's a great book with homey recipes. In particular, I made their Gingerbread Muffins.  I'm a sucker for gingerbread and what's really cool is that you put the recipe together and then put it in the refrigerator so that you just bake what you want at the time. 

I modified the recipe because I discovered that I didn't have enough molasses. You need a cup and I ended up adding rice syrup and honey to make up the difference.  I also added more ginger because they only called for a tablespoon of ginger for 3 dozen muffins.  Next time I will use 2 tablespoons of ginger. 

I made about 14 muffins and promptly ate two.  They're that good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thought You'd Like to See the Buffs

The Buff Orpingtons and Oddball

Yeah, they're a bit more grown up, but they're starting to look very pretty and they're a lovely gold color.
The Buff Orpingtons

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Farmer's Market Day, Preserving Food and Hatching Chicken Eggs

Farmer's market proved to be once again a bounty of yummy things.  I bought zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, salad mix, peaches, strawberries, Honey-O melon, apples, Flathead cherries, beans, onions, corn, celery, butter, cheese, and a pork roast. 

Today I blanched beans and sugar snap peas and froze them for use over winter.  Blanching, I have found, to be the easiest way to preserve foods.  I will probably do so with kale and Swiss chard.  I just wish I could preserve other foods better.   My mom used to make canned preserves with the paraffin wax top the USDA says isn't safe anymore.   I don't have a pressure cooker and canning seems a bit daunting at this point. 

Lastly, I succumbed to chicken eggs.  I bought 6 Easter Egger and 4 Blue Orpington eggs for about $4.74 plus shipping.  We'll see...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eggs for Sale, Cold Frames and Markets

Now that the chickens are getting into the swing of laying eggs, I'm going to have to sell some.  I eat a fair amount of eggs, but I'm getting about 8 eggs a day, which means they're surplus.  I'm thinking of putting up a sign at the local gas station and market as well as bring some eggs by the veterinarians.  Who knows?  Maybe they'll subtract those eggs to my bill.  If you live in or around Missoula and want fresh eggs, let me know.

Decided to try making Welsh cakes today but made them with barley flour.  They are very sweet and even a little crumbly, which made them a tasty breakfast treat. 

Cold Frame on Vegetable Gardener
The weather is now a bit on the cool side and I'm thinking about planting something in the cold frames.  After having been sick for a while, I haven't done a lot.  But I need to get some stuff planted if I want fresh herbs and veggies in the fall/winter.

Tomorrow is the Farmer's Market.  I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Saving Money By Making Your Own

One of the reasons I've been working on stock/broth is because buying it from the store seems so darn expensive.  I mean, when you're paying $3 to $5 for the convenience of organic stock, I started thinking about making my own.

Today I bought part of an organic knuckle bone and a piece of "chuck steak" for about $5.  I tossed it in the pot with some celery, onions and carrots I had bought at the farmer's market.  Combined, those ingredients probably cost about 75 cents.  I added herbs and spices, most picked from my garden or dried.  I figure by the end, I got about 6 quarts of stock, cooked meat for soup, a bone for reuse in stock, and a bunch of vegetables I'm feeding the chickens tomorrow.

So, maybe I spent $6.  If I paid about $3.50 per quart of organic beef stock, I would have spent about $21 for the amount of stock I made.  That saves me $15 on the stock alone. This stock I can now use in recipes like risotto, stews, and, of course, soup.  Since it freezes nicely, it stays good.

My Chickens love leftovers
Because I have chickens, vegetables don't go to waste.  If I have old vegetables, leftover soup vegetables, fruit peels, melon rinds and the like, they go to the chickens.  The chickens eat them and that goes towards the eggs.  Heck of a deal.

I know some recipes claim that you should throw out the meat you use in the broth, but I've never done that.  Meat from the broth gets frozen and used in soups or some other dish, so it does double duty.  I never give cooked bones to my dogs (too brittle), so if I have a bone from a soup, I put it in the freezer because I might be able to roast it and use it again as a stock flavoring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Soup is Good Food, Part 2

There's something primeval about soup.  It's one of the oldest foods on the planet, to be sure, and most of us find soups and stews remarkably comforting.  Oddly enough, people have seemed to lose the ability to make the stuff, which is too bad because it's actually easy to make.  I know for years, other than soup from my mom, soup meant opening a can of Campbells and zapping it in the microwave.  I think in our busy lifestyle, we've lost our patience with cooking, especially if it takes longer than a half hour to make. 

Really good soup takes good broth, and good broth takes time.  It also has a yucky factor to it.  I mean, you add a bunch of meat, bones and vegetables you really aren't interested in eating and pour water on it and boil for a long while.  I laughed when my husband came to the kitchen (he always decides to check to see what I'm doing when I'm working on the most unappetizing stuff) and saw me put together the stock in the stock pot.  What's more, at the end of the cooking, you have to strain out the broth and throw out all the used-up bones.  I keep the meat because that can be used in a soup or other food later.  But it all takes time and effort; whereas, opening a can of soup from the store doesn't.

But the soup from the store isn't as good.  For years I searched for a wild rice soup on the shelves that equaled the wild rice soup I had in Minnesota at the Hinckley sled dog race.  Eventually, I found something similar with Progresso, but it still wasn't the same.  Now, I make my own version and it's to die for.  It's a yummy wild rice and venison, chicken or buffalo chowder.  I'll post the link in the next blog post.

When I'm making soup, I feel like I'm opening a portal back in time. Looking at the steaming concoction, I can imagine our ancestors with clay pots or hollowed out wooden containers cooking something steaming over a cook fire.  I wonder who thought about adding bones and bits of plants for flavoring to make broth and then figure out that this could make their meals go further.  I marvel because this is a basic thing that all people make -- not just one culture or another.  So, it had to come from someone long ago who passed on the knowledge to others.  Or, maybe several people figured it out at once.  Regardless, it's really not something you're born knowing how to do.  When I started making broth, I had to go back to a cookbook to get the basic ingredients.  And yet, every culture has soup or stew in some variety.  Maybe it's basic physics where there's only so many ways for cooking foods.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Peachy Keen

I've been sick with an ear infection and had to play catch up on work today, so I found myself staring at some peaches from the farmer's market that were doomed to die an unnatural death.  Rather than let that happen, I figured I could whip together a peach crumble that would be a tasty breakfast treat as well as a pick-me-up dessert. Problem is, it's nearly 2 am.  But alas and alack, that has never stopped me before. 

So, I'm sitting here writing my blog while I wait for the crumble.  And while you folks may point out that the picture here is a peach cobbler and not a crumble, oh well.  It's peach, isn't it? 

The second egg hatch didn't go as well as the first one.  I did get a chick from it -- a Blue Orpington - but the others are sitting in the incubator.  More or less just sitting.  I figure they're dead, but I might as well keep them in there for the next couple of days to see if any pip.  If they do, that's great.  If not, I've wasted only time and a little energy.  I'm really disappointed that none of the second batch of French Black Copper Marans hatched.  I suspect shipping or lack of fertilization caused them to not hatch.  If it was solely my handling, then I wouldn't have gotten the chicks I did.  I won't buy from that source again.  The Blue Orpington was actually a replacement for a smashed egg from the breeder, so I think I lucked out getting it to hatch.