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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winter Tomatoes

Thank you to Blue Gate Farm for awarding us the Liebster Blog award. :) We love Blue Gate Farm and the great things they do with their veggies!  Check them out if you haven't already. 
The "Liebster Blog" award is given to up-and-coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers ("Liebster" is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, loveliest, cutest etc.)

Last year, before we ourselves were on the Farm Crawl, I was talking with Jill at Blue Gate about keeping green tomatoes to ripen after the growing season.  I didn't get a chance to last year, but this year I picked every single green tomato before the heavy frost came.  I brought them in the house and set them in a sunny window.  You can keep them out of the sun in a cooler area, bringing them out to ripen as you want them, but I wanted to ripen them quickly to can some more sauce.

(**An "Always Learning Edit" to add: I have since learned that it is suggested to ripen them out of the sun, as only the leaves need the sun - not the fruit.  I have changed to ripening them this way, but I didn't have any problems when I ripened them in the sun as this post shows.)

Marzano Sauce Tomatoes
As you can see, they are ripening at different speeds. I've been sorting them as they change colors, and today I sliced up all my red ones - about 3+  gallons worth (that were once green), and am ready to run them through my Champion Juicer and make some spaghetti sauce. It's been fun to watch them ripen, great to have more to can, and wonderful to still have some home grown tomatoes for sandwiches and tacos!

Maybe next year I'll put some green ones in the cellar and see just how long into winter I can pull out tomatoes for our own home grown tomatoes.

Tools of My Trade

My champion juicer was given to me by a friend who was leaving to live in another country.  I can say without a doubt that I would go buy another one if mine ever stopped working. (I'm guessing my model is over 20 years old and is still working great.) In fact, my mom came to visit while I was using my juicer and immediately ordered one for herself after seeing how much time it saves. I drop in tomatoes cut in halves or chunks (just to make sure nothing funky is going on inside), and the juice/sauce empties into one bowl while the seeds and skins empty into another.  I use this for my tomato soup, salsa (added with tomato chunks), and spaghetti sauce.  I also throw in apple slices with the skin on to make apple sauce, putting a plate on that allows me to use every bit that comes out of the juicer. My mom plans on using it for her grape juice.  And we are just touching the tip of what this machine can be used for.  These can be found used on e-bay without a problem, or you can purchase one new like on the link below.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Rendering Lard

Rendering lard may sound a bit scary, but it is actually quite a simple process.  The steps consist of:
  1. Melt
  2. Strain
  3. Store
Here are some photos throughout the process.

Step 1: Melt
I started off with 3 frozen 4-5lb packages of ground Crooked Gap Farm lard. Start the heat low (mine was 1-2 on our electric stove) until you get a nice puddle of melted lard.  Once you get a nice puddle, you can turn the heat up a bit (I went from 3-5). Stir occasionally, taking care to scrape the bottom.  If your lard starts bubbling, you might want to turn it down.  This will keep the meat bits from scorching on the bottom.  I also like to use a heavy pan, in these pictures - my pressure canner pan, to keep the lard from scorching.  The bits of meat in the lard will start to float.  Once they sink again, your lard is ready to strain!
8:55 am :: Starting to melt frozen lard.
9:50 am ::  Lard is melting nicely. I can turn up the heat a little since there is a good amount of melted lard.
11:14 am :: Lard "bricks" are gone.  Bits of meat are floating.  (You can actually start straining lard at this point if you like - the first few batches will be your whitest lard.)
3:05 pm ::  Came in from chores to find bits of meat had sunk to the bottom.  Done!

Step 2: Strain
I recently discovered how helpful it is to use two strainers when straining the lard.  The bottom strainer has a layer of cheesecloth (found in the Walmart Craft department for making ghosts and things).  The cheesecloth will strain out the tiniest bits of meat and allow the liquid to drip through. The top strainer catches the larger bits of meat and keeps the cheesecloth less clogged up.  The bits of meat caught in the top strainer can be returned to the pan to melt down further and further until you get cracklings, if you like them. (Hopefully I'll get pictures of the crackling process sometime.) You can either strain your lard into the container you want to store it in, another pan to keep it warm before filling smaller containers, or straight into smaller containers - which I'm not so talented in doing.
Strainer 1 set up with cheesecloth over container.
Strainer 2 set inside strainer 1 to catch meat and help keep cheesecloth clean. 

Step 3: Store
After you have strained your lard and filled your sterilized containers, you need to set it aside and allow it to cool.  This can take a day or more to completely finish depending on the temperature and size of container.  You can either let your lard cool at room temperature or put it right into the freezer to get a more even consistency.  Lard will keep best if the final product is stored in the freezer, but it can also be kept in the fridge, root cellar, or on the counter if kept sealed.
After your lard has been strained into a container of your choice.  I used this large bucket since I have a project up my sleeves!  While your lard is still warm, it will have a deep amber color.  Just set it aside now to cool.
 Once  your lard has fully cooled, it will be a beautiful white color.
One of my favorite ways to store lard is in quart jars - ready to pull out and use for my cooking.  The lids will self seal as the lard cools.
Using your Lard
You may notice that your lard is quite soft and might almost be runny at room temperature - this is a good thing!  It shows the high quality of your lard - unlike the lard that has been hydrogenated at the grocery store. In order to make your lard easier to work with, you may want to put it in the fridge or freezer a bit before using it, especially if cutting it into pastries.

More Info
For more info on the home rendered lard and its health benefits, see the following sites:
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Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 Farm Crawl

If you haven't been following our farm on Facebook, you might be wondering if we are still around. Well, we are - we are just completely caught up in farm life!   Ethan is still working 40 hours in town, I'm still homeschooling and taking care of our 4 kids, and we are still trying to keep the farm moving ahead.  We have been slowly making progress here as we continue to expand not only our farm, but also our markets, as we have started selling at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market on Saturdays.  Needless to say, our days are full!!

We've had many people who have wanted to come get a little tour of our place over the last couple of years, and we hope to be able to do this more at some point when Ethan moves more of his time to on the farm.  For those of you itching to get a glimpse, however, we would like to extend an invitation to come on out this Sunday, October 2nd for the 2011 Farm Crawl.

We are blessed to have a great group of like minded farmers for neighbors, and we have been blessed to be welcomed to their tour of farms, know as the Farm Crawl.  So, if you are able, come on over and say "Hi" - and let us know you read our blog too!

You can find directions and more info at, but here's an excerpt from the website.

Farm Crawl 2011

Eight independent family farm operations, all within an easy drive of each other in south-central Iowa, are jointly hosting open houses. Enjoy a leisurely autumn day “crawling” from farm to farm (Okay, you don't actually crawl, you drive yourself between farms). 

Come visit south Marion County/north Lucas County (one hour south of Des Moines) to see each of our individual operations.   Tour the farms, visit the animals, meet the farmers, sample the goodies, purchase locally grown & produced products,  and have lots of fun in the beautiful Iowa countryside!  Visit special guest vendors at some of the farms.   FREE admission onto all of the farms (there is a charge to enter the corn-maze at Dan-D Farm).

NO PETS - for the safety of our farm animals and guests, please leave your animals at home.

The eight farms include: Blue Gate Farm, Coyote Run Farm, Dan-D Farms, Pierce’s Pumpkin Patch
Reichert’s Dairy Air, Schneider Orchards, White Breast Pottery and Weaving and new this year: Crooked Gap Farm.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shed Fire!

This morning, while it was still fairly dark, I woke up as it started to rain.  While I was semi-dozing off, I heard what sounded to be the rumble of a train.  With all of the tornadoes recently, I started looking out the window to see what the sky was like.  Ethan asked what I was doing, and I told him it sounded like a train.  He said, "Yup, it does." (We can hear a train from our house if the wind is right.)

I then thought I heard an animal in distress, so I thought maybe one of our cows was having a calf.  I sat up and peeked out the window again.  This time I noticed a warm yellow glow coming from the shed where our lambs and ewes are presently at.  This warm yellow glow was flickering and flashing.  And I continued to hear a rumble.  I immediately exclaimed, "The shed is on fire!!"

Ethan looked out the window, jumped out of bed, and ran towards the mudroom. I followed right behind. 

We both threw on our mud boots and ran outside into the rain in our pj's, Ethan towards the hydrant and I towards the end of the hose, which was by the shed.

I then stopped.

I looked at the flashing, dancing yellow glow reflecting off of the white inside of the shed's siding.

There was no use of turning on the faucet.

It was just the hood of a work light left on blowing in the wind, erratically casting its glow on the shed walls.

And a train in the distance.

And no new calf.

So we went back to bed, I told my husband sorry I am a dork, and I managed to fall asleep again only to dream of barn fires.  I must say, we have way cooler barns in my dreams.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And the Winner of the Great Egg Hunt is . . .

 . . . a pair of banties.

I thought I have done a pretty good job of finding stolen nests, but I noticed that there were 2 banty hens that disappeared around the same time.  I thought it was possible that they had been picked off by some predator, but I was also wondering if they might not show up before too long since they had tried to steal some nests earlier this spring.

A few days ago, while watering the sheep, one of these hens appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared into nowhere.  I tried to look around to see if I could find her hiding anywhere close by, but I had no luck.

Today I was digging holes for some trees that should be arriving, when I thought I heard something that sounded a bit like a baby chick in the shed.  I looked into the sheep area and saw the little banty hen again.  And I was sure that what I heard was a baby chick.  I followed the sound and came to the boards along the shed wall. 

I know I have checked between the boards and wall before for eggs, but there was the chick.  And a couple of unhatched eggs. I don't know how she got past me, but she did.  Good camo I guess.

Well, the incessant cheeping of the stuck little chick seemed to bring out the other banty hen.  So now there were the two that I had been missing.  I wasn't sure which was the mom.  Maybe both??  Chickens have been known to share nests, especially little tiny ones like these.
The chick is between the walls, one hen on one side, and the second hen outside sticking her beak under

So I set up a pen for the chicks and hens, because being stuck between 2 walls just wouldn't do for the chick. I then proceeded to catch the hen I thought was the mom (who was paying the most attention to the cheeping) and the chick.  I caged them up, got them some water, and then saw the free hen go to check out the nest. Great. Wrong bird?
The little chick and the not much bigger banty hen
At about the exact same time, I started to hear peeping.  The chick I rescued was snug under a momma hen.  This was more peeping!  Coming from the stock trailer.

I went inside of the trailer, but it was quite empty, apart from 3 eggs that were in the usual stolen nest spot.  But the peeping was definitely coming from the trailer.  After a little additional listening, I determined that the peeping was coming from the front storage area of the trailer.  After a bit of fiddling with the door, I got the storage area open.

And a storage area it is!!
After removing buckets and feed bags, I was down to the heavy stuff
I carefully started removing things, including rolled up heavy floor mats, not wanting to crush any chicks or hatching eggs.  Eventually I found them!
Floor mat #1 removed - a fold of floor mat #2
Oh boy!  What a nest!!

The hens, however, were now all jumbled now, and I wasn't sure if the real mom would take this nest again - let alone the other hen.

So I gathered the 3 chicks and the other eggs, which were hatching, and set up another pen.  I gave all but one chick to one hen and the eggs and the youngest looking chick (to keep her on the eggs so she wouldn't fight to get to chicks) to the other.
So now we will wait and see if any more chicks hatch.  Unfortunately, only one of the eggs/chicks that hatched were from a regular sized chicken. The big clutch was all banty eggs - not too exciting to get in your dozen farm fresh eggs, they're quite small.

So as you can see, the banties won.  I'm not sure if I'm going to keep all of them. Banties are wonderful for hatching out clutches of eggs, which I wanted them for.  But I guess they are also wonderful at stealing nests. (Although not so wonderful at picking spots if they want their chicks to survive.)  Maybe with some planning and planting of nests (there are tricks you can do with golf balls . . . but that's a whole other post), I can get these banties to work in our favor hatching out our regular chickens.

At least the chicks are cute. :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Great Egg Hunt

Since we just had Easter, I figured this would be an appropriate time to put a post on about my Great Egg Hunt.  It is kind of like an Easter egg hunt each day, although these eggs aren't filled with candy.  I guess I could say they are filled with something even better though - a rich golden yolk bursting with Omega 3's and lots of other nutrients.

Our hens are more then just pastured poultry.  They are what I like to call "Run of the Farm" chickens since they have, well, the run of the farm! (Including my garden and flower bed - but that is a price you have to pay.)  All day long they run where ever they want chasing bugs and searching out the best forages of the day.  Because of this, their eggs are incredible!  But because of this, the eggs are also a little hard to find at times too! Especially in the spring when they want to steal a nest and hatch out chicks. 

These ladies are taking a moment to scratch through our oat straw to find some oats.
So the Great Egg Hunt begins (or continues each day). Here are some of my stops.
The main nest box.  This is where the not so adventurous hens go.
Another nest box in the shed . . .
A tub in the shed - This has been the longest running stolen nest, although it has cycled through which hen is using it.
I recently found this spot in the corner of the shed, only because of a couple eggs which had rolled out through the bottom and into the grass on the other side.
Ahh, yes.  The manure spreader!  Another popular spot.
The lawn cart will do for some hens.
Two stolen nests together in the livestock trailer which currently houses the pig feed.  These hens are going easy on me.

Ethan found this one last night, right smack on top of a straw bale.
Although a nest box, it is outside attached to our chicken tractor which is not currently in use.  I threw some straw in it though to try and catch the hens who wanted to hide their eggs outside.  Tricked a few!
And this little lady in the dog cage, she will get to keep her eggs.  She is broody and is sitting on a clutch I gave her.  I will keep her shut up inside, safe from predators, (with plenty of food and water of course) until her chicks hatch.

Although not pictured, I was finding them in a hog hut for awhile too.  I'm sure there are a few piles of eggs I haven't found yet also. These chickens are persistent.  They really want to hatch out a clutch so they often will find a new spot to hide their eggs. And so the Great Egg Hunt will continue on!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Lambing Season has Begun!

Ethan and I pulled in with the kids at 10:30 last night from a birthday/Easter get together.  As I unloaded the kids, I heard a sound that didn't quite sound like a baby pig.  (Yesterday morning before church Ethan announced that our sow had farrowed over the night.)  As I listened closer, it sounded more like a lamb.  According to the chart on when we should watch for our lambs to arrive, it was a little early.  (The 21st was the day to start watching.)  Even so, it was close.

I grabbed a flashlight and headed out to the nearby pasture, 2 kids waiting patiently in the van. My suspicions were correct.  A little white wobbly legged lamb!

I quickly headed back to the van, called Ethan who was trailing behind me in the Expedition (We ended up driving to church separately due to the baby pigs that morning.), and took the kids inside to get ready for bed.

When Ethan got home he headed out to the pasture.  I watched his headlamp bob across the pasture and into the shed twice as I got our little 3 month old Jonathan ready for bed.  On one of these trips of his, I also saw that he was carrying a full grown sheep!

I headed outside myself after Jonathan was settled in.  As I peeked into the shed I was not surprised to see the little white lamb and momma, but I was surprised to see lamb number 2!  I didn't see or hear a second lamb when I first got home, and Ethan mentioned it wasn't standing well when he found it so it might have been born shortly after I saw the first.

Our first 2 lambs of the season - and first lambs born on the farm!
Last night was a cold, rainy night. Temps will be down to the 30's this week with highs in the 50's and plenty of rain forecasted.  It's really not your ideal way to start your first season of lambing. but regardless, here we go!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Garden Prep

Last week was a beautiful week weather wise.  It made me think about our garden even more.  We are expanding it this year (We had pigs beside it last year conditioning the soil for expansion), and hopefully we will get it out of the new garden stage and into a more established bed.  We weren't able to get it tilled up in the fall because of a number of reasons, but we have a friend's tiller being tuned up right now to hopefully put to use soon.

Right now I also have my sweet potatoes growing at the kitchen sink's window, a spot in the laundry room ready to go for starting plants with a grow light (although I still need to buy my garden seeds), and I recently brought home sand and mixed my peat/sand mix today for doing cuttings. (I have decided to do greenwood cutting with the blueberries, raspberries, edlerberries, etc,  but I'm planning on trying some hardwood boxwood cuttings this week yet, and maybe some other plants if I find a parent plant - I'll try to get pictures.)

I'd love to hear what you have going on for this season's garden.  If you are still looking to get started this year, you can always start saving milk jugs, making homemade planting pots, or even give a try to starting sweet potatoes if you bring some home soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

5 Signs of Spring

Robins have been back for a little bit now, but yesterday really got me thinking spring.  Here are 5 things I was able to enjoy yesterday.
  1. The temperature hit the 70's
  2. I took the winter cover feed sacks off of my orchard trees, reusing them as mulch
  3. The hive of honeybees was very active
  4. Spring peepers have begun singing
  5. There is a hint of green in the grass
    Part of our chicken flock searching for those first green blades of grass
Winter cover feed sack turned to mulch

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunny Days Ahead :)

Wow, I guess it's been awhile again since I last posted!  I was heading up a project fair with our home school group which took quite a bit of my time - planning for the event and helping the kids with their projects.  After it was over I had quite a bit of catching up in the house to do with things that got put on hold for the fair.  I still have quite the line up of things that need to get done and things I want to get done with spring coming, but I thought I would take a moment and throw up some pictures just to not have such a big break on my blog.  Plus, it's been awhile since I've put up any farm pictures.

With the warmer weather, our egg production has been increasing, and it might be increasing more than I can tell.  Not only are our hens starting to lay more eggs, but they are starting to get a bit of spring fever themselves and are stealing nests all around the farm.  When I go to collect eggs now, not only do I go to the nest boxes, but I look inside tubs, reach through fences, and even crawl inside hog huts.  This little gal even went broody already.  She had WAY too many eggs though, and they were all cold.  I tried to move her (she was in the stock trailer with a nest, and we needed to pick up some feeder pigs) and give her some new eggs, but she didn't take them.  It is a bit early so I was okay with it.  Plus, she can really only sit on 3 regular sized eggs, she is so small!! (She is only about the size of a quart jar. Those are her little eggs in front of her so the picture is deceiving.)

When I go out to collect eggs in the afternoon, I walk through the other animals too to see what they are up.  Here is a picture I took of our pigs enjoying some soft bedding and the sunny day. 

It's nice to see the animals enjoying themselves with the nicer weather.  It makes me anxious to see them out of the winter lots and around the farm on green pastures and in lush wooded areas!

Monday, February 28, 2011

1 Month of No Groceries!

Today is the last day of February, and the last day I had planned to cook entirely from my cupboards.  I am happy to say that the only things that I bought this month were 4 gallons of milk and 1 box of butter (of which I used 2 sticks). I am also happy to say that I think I could continue cooking from my cupboards for another week if I wanted to - although they would be extremely bare at the end of the week!

Since I had to go into town today for a project with the kids' school, I did go grocery shopping just in case I didn't have enough for the week. (Don't worry - I am not using any of my new groceries until tomorrow.) I just didn't want to have to make another errand run into town at the end of the week if I was already there.

I was pleasantly surprised over the month of how meals went from cooking just from my cupboard.  I thought about sharing all of the meals I made, but realized that my cupboards are different than others.  If anyone else wants to try this, I didn't want to taint their creativity by listing what I did -  or didn't think of doing.  I will tell you some things that I took out of this month of cupboard cooking though.
  1. It was extremely helpful to have a nice supply of dried goods on hand that I buy extra of when on sale. 
  2. What I have canned and preserved turned out to be a major part of keeping my cooking from my cupboard going - fruit, dried beans, meats, vegetables.  It really has got me excited for this upcoming canning season and broadening and expanding on the foods that I preserve.
  3. I became much better with substitutions when cooking.  I don't deviate from recipes that much out of fear of ruining a meal, but I was pleasantly surprised with how things turned out when I had to substitute - again, I won't share in this post what I did out of necessity as to not hamper your creativity!
  4. Taking some extra time to think about what is on hand before planning a meal greatly helps keep grocery purchases down.  I usually plan meals around what I want to eat/cook and then purchase ingredients instead of planning meals around what I have on hand.  
  5. I am very thankful to have a wheat grinder and a large supply of wheat berries for making bread. Fresh whole wheat bread can provide for many yummy and nutritious sandwiches.
  6. Having chickens is wonderful!  Eggs are used in so many recipes.
  7. Having a milk cow (or milking the cows you have) would be just as wonderful - milk and butter are used in so many recipes. (We had some meals without the butter needed - edible, but just not the same.)
  8. I would say I'm pretty good at being frugal, but I was amazed again by what you can survive on when you need to do so or just make yourself do so. 
I'm sure there is more I could list if I thought about it, but I have kids getting up soon and need to keep moving.  Maybe I'll add them if I think of any - so check back to this post if you decide to give it a try!  I'd love to hear your thoughts and maybe next time I won't put a deadline of a month on and see just how long I can go. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Crooked Gap Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal - Copy Cat Recipe

Sorry about the teaser yesterday.  I really did plan on posting the recipe but just ran out of time.  So here are the 2 different recipes and instructions to follow.  They still might need a bit of tweaking, according to your tastes, but hopefully they are a good starting point.  

Mixture when not using fruit sauce:
- Mix well and store in jar
2 c brn sugar
1 T salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves

*Add 1/4 c mixture to 2 1/4 cups water.  Bring to a boil.  Add 2 c oats, turn down heat, stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 c milk and 2 T maple syrup.  Cover and let set around 15 minutes before serving.  (If you like to eat right away in the morning, you might want to start your oatmeal right before your shower.)

To make variations to the recipe, try adding more or less of the mixture or syrup to adjust flavor and more or less milk or water to adjust creaminess.  If you really like to play around, you can also adjust amounts of seasoning in the mixture.  You can also add in flax seed, bananas (my favorite!), raisins, top with cinnamon, etc.

Mixture when using fruit sauce:
- Mix well and store in jar
2 c brn sugar
2 T salt
1 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves

*Add 2 T mixture to 2 cups water and 1/2 cup fruit sauce (I use pear and apple sauce).  Bring to a boil.  Add 2 c oats, turn down heat, stir for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Add 1/4 c milk and 2 T maple syrup.  Cover and let set around 15 minutes before serving.  (If you like to eat right away in the morning, you might want to start your oatmeal right before your shower.)

To make variations to the recipe, try adding more or less of the mixture or syrup to adjust flavor and more or less milk or water to adjust creaminess.  If you really like to play around, you can also adjust amounts of seasoning in the mixture.  You can also add in flax seed, bananas (my favorite!), raisins, top with cinnamon, etc.
Crooked Gap Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal

So there you have it.  I'd love to hear if you make any changes or variations that you like or even if you have a completely different way to make oatmeal!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Oatmeal Copy Cat Recipe

I grew up eating Cheerios - the real Cheerios.  Every morning I would have a big bowlful. If I wanted a snack midday, they would be one of my first choices.

When we got married, or maybe even when I was in college, I realized that there were generic versions of Cheerios.  I also realized that there was a significant price difference.  So I started buying the generic brand.  Let me tell you.  They are NOT like the real Cheerios.  But they were cheaper.  So I kept buying them.

Ethan and I are approaching our 10 year anniversary, and over the years he has teased me about there not being a taste difference in them.  I continued to hold my ground that there was a taste difference, and not only a taste difference, but also a hierarchy within the generic Cheerios world.  Between Walmart, Hy-Vee, and Fareway - Fareway wins by a landslide. (Although they still fall quite a bit behind the real thing!) Like I said, Ethan has teased me over the years about this, but just this year he started to agree with me.  Especially after I got on his case about using the Fareway O's in his chex mix before the Hy-Vee O's that he brought home to make chex mix. (I wasn't really upset, just teasing, but he made sure to leave the Fareway O's alone for his second batch - after he had a bowlful of Hy-vee O's himself.)

As I have been buying Fareway O's over the years, I have watched their price raise from under $1 to over $2.  Somewhere in the middle, I started making oatmeal from a box, not a premix, for the kids instead of giving them O's.  I flavored it and seasoned it as best as I could.  They all enjoy it, but I have never been able to choke it down.  I have even tried multiple times, especially as the price of Tasty O's has continued to go up.  I just figured I didn't care for it because I grew up eating dry cereal.

When Jonathan was born, however, my good friend gave me a bunch of groceries that could make quick meals.  Among these groceries were little packets of pre-seasoned oatmeal. I cooked some up for the kids and decided to taste a bit only to find out that it was good!!

Since buying little packets of oatmeal would probably not save me any money over buying generic O's, I began my quest to find a copy cat recipe for oatmeal.  After a couple attempts and adjustments, I came up with one that I actually enjoy eating.  I ran out of O's a few weeks ago and have been eating this oatmeal.  I surprised myself this week that I was actually disappointed when I ran out of oatmeal!  (Since I'm trying to go the rest of the month with buying as few groceries as possible, I'm on to the next breakfast idea.)

I have 2 different versions of my copy cat recipe.  The first one is for those of you who don't have a fruit sauce.  The second one is for when you do. (I have quite a bit of pear sauce canned up that I am using.)

Since my little ones are about to get up, however, I will have to save my recipes for the next post (hopefully tomorrow!)  Don't forget to check back!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Grandpa Kies's Mulligan Stew

If you missed my post about cooking through my cupboards, you can check it out here.  So far, I have just bought 2 gallons of milk and a box of butter. (Too bad we aren't milking our Dexter cows or I wouldn't have had to even buy those!)

It really hasn't been any trouble figuring out what to make yet.  Although I am really noticing the cupboards and fridge empty out, I still have a decent selection left of things I can cook with.  I just might be able to make it through the month without needing to go grocery shopping - except for milk. . . . unless Ethan wants to try milking one of our Dexters. ;)

One of the meals I recently made was my Grandpa Kies's Mulligan Stew, one of my favorite soups.  I didn't follow the recipe exactly, and I made some substitutes with the broth and tomato base that I was a bit unsure about working or not - but I think it actually turned out quite good.

Since there is still a bit of cold weather left this year, I thought I would share the recipe.  (Any leftovers freeze well too, by the way.)

Here's what I did:
              * the ?? are for where I didn't measure
1 pint home canned ground beef with broth
1 quart home canned diced tomatoes
3-4 potatoes (diced)
?? carrots (chopped)
?? stalk celery (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
?? frozen corn
1 pint home canned green beans with juice
1 pint home canned pinto/black beans
?? lentils
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
         :: cooked on low on the stove for 8+ hours

And here's the original recipe:

1 lb ground beef or cut up roast
2 c beef broth (canned or bullion cubes)
8 oz tomato sauce
3-4 potatoes (diced)
3-4 carrots (chopped)
1 stalk celery (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
1-2 cups cabbage (chopped)
1 can corn with juice
1 can green beans with juice
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
        :: cook in crockpot or on low heat as long as possible for best flavor

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tamworth Piglets

I realize that I haven't really put much of a farm update on recently.  Now that we have a Facebook for our farm, a lot the "happenings" get put on there.  I've tried linking it over to blogger but have not succeeded (anyone know how).  So I thought it is time for a quick farm update.

Although we are selling beef and eggs, our biggest seller this past year has been our pork.  It is really good!, and it is what we have most available.  We have a heritage breed of hogs called Herefords (yes, Hereford hogs, not the cattle.)  We have been very happy with them.  Early on, however, Ethan wanted to have some Tamworths on the farm.  We had a lot of trouble finding them, but now we have them!

It has been quite the ordeal too.  Jonathan, our newest little guy, was due in December.  Ethan planned on picking up these bred Tamworth sows in January.  Well, Jonathan decided to come a bit late.  10 days late to be exact, born on January 6th.  This just happened to be the day that Ethan finally rescheduled to pick up the hogs (we were waiting on Jonathan being born.)  So instead of picking up sows that were due any moment, Ethan took me to the hospital since I was due at the moment.

Since the sows were due to farrow anytime, Ethan went and got them the day he brought Jonathan and myself home.  He got back late and left them in the trailer to unload after church on Sunday.

Our Tamworth that farrowed in the trailer with her 6 piglets.
Well, one of the sows decided that the trailer was quite cozy and she'd waited long enough, so she farrowed that night.  It was not quite ideal - 4 large sows (we got two Berks too) in a tiny trailer can crush little pigs fast.  Ethan managed to find the sow that farrowed (by milking them and seeing who had milk!), got the other sows out, and let the new momma settle down with her babies.  The new family eventually got moved out of the trailer.

Last night our second Tamworth farrowed.  Thankfully she was a little more settled in.  I encourage you to check out our Facebook or Ethan's Twitter if you want to see pictures of the newest baby pigs!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Bit of a Confession . . .

Right now I would consider our farm to still be in the set up phase.  We are still trying to figure out what type of balance we want with the livestock - kinds as well as numbers, and we have a bit of set up to do for them as well. (Especially as we bring in new animals like the sheep and hopefully meat birds this summer.)

We are also brainstorming other enterprises we can have on our land.  I'm really going to try to do a bit more with establishing fruit, berries and vegetables this year.

A peek inside the hive on our farm.
One thing that I would like to do as well is keep honey bees.  We are letting a friend keep a hive out here right now, and I really enjoy them.  They are great pollinators - which is especially beneficial if I do produce.  They are also just fun to watch and are intriguing.

Here is my confession though.  (Sometimes I feel I confess too many of my oddities on my blog.  It doesn't bother me with people I don't know - just those of you I do!  Oh well.  I am who I am!)  I have a tremendous aversion to squishing things and to parts of dead things.  It might be in part to having dead maggot filled birds and insect body parts deposited on me when I was growing up (brothers - gotta love them!), or it might be in part to the time when I told my great aunt that she could have some of my chickens for stew hens. I just wanted to pick which ones since I had named the colored ones and turned them to pets and didn't care about the white ones as much. After I got home from school, however, the white hens were running around and the heads were missing from my pet chickens.  AND I had to walk past the pile of my pet chicken heads daily to feed my rabbit until we got heavy rains and the flooding washed them away.  (Lesson to be had - don't let sensitive little girls make pets out of farm animals.)  Or, my aversion to squishing things and dead things could just be one of my oddities that was bound to happen no matter what.

Regardless, when you keep bees you will squish bees. I don't really mind being around when it happens.  I just don't want to be the one to do it.  So for now, bee keeping is something I'd love to do but don't know if I ever will.

So what's the point of this whole confession?  Well, it has gotten really warm here lately, for February, and the wolf spiders are coming out in droves in our house.  It usually happens in the spring and fall I've noticed.  Unfortunately, my aversion to squishing things applies to spiders too.  I just can't bring myself to crunch them or goo them on my floor.  I don't mind if someone else does, but my stomach just can't do it.

I really don't want them continuing to creep around, however, no matter how "good" they are to have around for insect control.  So what do I do?  Well, if they are on the wall, I vacuum them, but when I do I wonder if they just crawl back out.  (Yup, I think too much sometimes too. Okay, a lot of times.)  So when they are on the floor I do what any brave farm wife would do.  I put a canning jar over them and wait until my husband comes home so he can squish them. 

A wolf spider caught this morning.

So today, I would like to dedicate this post to my sweet husband who puts up with all of my strange quirks.  I love you, Ethan!  Happy Valentine's Day!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

A Wood Stove is Good For . . .

1When we built our house we decided not to put a furnace in. Without a furnace, we wouldn't need to put in duct work (we don't have central air either) which would save money with building expenses.  Heating with wood would also save quite a bit on heating bills.
The stove is the black square in the middle.
So we did our research and purchased a wood burning stove.  It sits right in the middle of the house to help the heat be evenly distributed.  We also have ceiling fans in the living room, kitchen, and 3 bedrooms to help move heat around as well.

Our stove does a great job heating the house.  In fact, I am usually cold when I go visit other people's houses in the winter.

We have found that the wood stove is good for many other things though, especially when you live on a farm.  Here are just a few:
During the day it is clear in front of the stove - at night we put it to full use!

  • hanging clothes on a rack close by overnight to not have to use the dryer
  • thawing frozen hoses (see Ethan's blog)
  • thawing frozen food when placed in a pan on top
  • raising bread when placed on a rack on the "cooler" level on top
  • warming baby pigs born in the winter whose momma didn't take to them right away (the momma is not going to stay, by the way)
  • a cozy spot for a sleeping baby in a swing
  • stimulation for a baby who is awake (both of my farm babies have enjoyed the flicker of the fire and the contrast of the stove pipe going up to the ceiling)
  • a chance for young ones to have responsibilities - helping with the wood pile
  • a chance for some exercise - collecting and splitting the wood 
  • a place to hang and dry wet coveralls
  • a place to unwind in front of
  • a place to roast marshmellows for winter Smores.  (I haven't done this yet, but I do think about it!)
Like I said, those are just a few.

Although there are times when a furnace would be nice (when we are gone, have other things to attend to besides wood, or the coldest of nights when it should have a refill), we are quite happy with our wood burning stove.  After all, can you make a list like that with a furnace?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jack on Attack!

Ethan and I have a joke around here that gets a bit personal sometimes, all in fun - whose dog is better.

When we still lived in town and Ethan's office and youth center were attached to our house, he got a little treeing cur.  Sophie, his dog, lived next door in his office (I don't want dogs in the house) to give him company during the day.  She is a great little town dog! ;)

When we moved to the farm, Sophie had a little adjusting to do.  She loved living outside, but when winter came, she ended up staying in the mud room.  At the time we didn't have a shed (which is where she goes now in the winter), so I caved and let her in.  But no further than the mudroom!

When we moved to the farm, I decided that although Sophie is a nice little doggie, she wasn't really a farm dog.  Farm dogs are big, tough, and burly.  Sophie is, well, not that.  So I told Ethan that I wanted a big dog.  We talked about breeds and eventually decided to get a great pyrenees.  Not only are they big, tough, and burly, but they are great livestock guardian dogs.

As a side note, we have seen the Lord's provision in so many ways since we started this farming journey, including providing for my desire to have a big dog on the property.  At the time, Ethan was still coaching soccer so we decided to wait until soccer season was done to bring in a new puppy.  At the end of the soccer season, at the soccer banquet, one of the parents asked Ethan if we had a farm dog.  (I laughed because Ethan and I would have given different answers.)  He proceeded to ask if we would happen to want a great pyrenees pup.  He had two he wanted to give away!  Of course we said yes, although we only took one. And that is how Jack came to the farm.

Jack - just a tiny pup   ::  Sophie - full grown 
So back to whose dog is best. Ethan claims that Sophie is a better dog than Jack. Some of his arguments include the fact that Jack lays around a lot during the day, eats a lot, and doesn't really do a good job working with the livestock.  On occasion we will have "escapee" animals in the yard.  Cows, bulls, and pigs (even large sows on the porch).  Sophie doesn't care for this at all.  She barks quite a bit at them while Jack lays around and watches.  Also, when someone comes to the house, Sophie is the one that barks. 

I hold my ground though that Jack is the better dog.  Yes, he eats a lot, but he has MUCH better manners than Sophie.  Although he is a bit of a brute and does get in the way, he doesn't jump all over - like another dog does that lives here. :)  As far as not doing his job, I have some explanations for that.  First of all, we wanted him to be a guard dog for our family.  That is why he sleeps so much by the house.  As far as livestock by the house, his livestock guardian nature is coming out. (He is not a herding dog, by the way!) He knows who is supposed to be here and who isn't.  In his mind, the cattle and pigs belong here so why chase them away.  Also, I have heard that his breed is very good at discerning good and bad company (see my previous sentence), so when people come here that are friendly, why bark at them either?  So, my theory is that Jack just hasn't had the chance to prove his capabilities much.  He does get credit though for being up a lot at night and barking at things in the woods. (Although some nights when he keeps me up I will join Ethan in the camp that Sophie is better!)

This winter, however, has been a bit rough on Jack's reputation with Ethan.  I have heard that my dog is worthless a few times.  Especially when we had coyotes in the shed getting chickens a couple times while Jack (and Sophie, I might add) were in there.  This is true.  I can't deny it.  I will say that I caught a coyote in there once when I went to get eggs and it must have been quite sneaky.  As soon as I spooked it, the dogs went wild. 

WELL . . . today was Jack's day to shine.  As I was getting ready for lunch I heard both dogs going crazy outside.  I looked out the window to find Sophie barking by the house and Jack attacking a coyote!  It was quite the site.  Both Jack and the coyote had their front paws on each other and were biting each other.  Jack ended up on top and chased the coyote until he had him cornered by some hay bales.  He proceeded to attack him there.  Then he would stop and just kind of stare the coyote down, kind of like saying "I dare you".  After a little stare down, he would attack him again, and then stare him down again.  This went back and forth for quite awhile.  Finally Jack let the coyote by and chased in towards the driveway gate.

Unfortunately I didn't get an attack picture, but here is the "I dare you". (click on photo to enlarge)

This must have been a very hungry coyote, because it kept trying to turn around and come back in the yard.  Jack kept on his tail though and got him out the drive.  Then he chased him across the road, into the neighbor's field, and ACROSS the field to the woods, and then came back home. (Jack rarely leaves the property.)

I then sent a message to Ethan at work that JACK is the better dog!

So now that Jack has had an opportunity to prove his worth, hopefully he will gain some respect around here.  And now that he's gotten a taste and smell of coyote, hopefully he will be able to keep the sneaky ones out of the shed and keep some respect. :)  After all, he is the better dog!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cooking from the Cupboards

Jonathan is now 1 month old, and I have been blessed by so many friends with meals this last month.  I have had over a dozen meals brought to us along with ingredients given for throwing together quick meals.  Many of these meals had leftovers as well to provide for additional meals.  We have basically been eating meals gifted by others for the last month.  It has been a blessing in many ways.  First of all, I have had more time to devote to our family, to keep school going, and to stay rested with the transition of a new baby.  We are also in the midst of a transition with Ethan's jobs - so the meals have been helpful there as well.

But another reason, it has been COLD out!!! One of the last things I want to do right now is take a new baby, 2 year old, 5 year old, and 6 year old out of the house to go shopping for groceries.  I think I have only had to go out shopping once since Jonathan has been born.  (Ethan is great and picks up milk and a few random things if needed.)

So now that I am back to cooking again, I decided that I am going to try to cook from our cabinets as much as possible.  Not only will this keep the grocerybills down for awhile, but it will also help to keep all of the kiddo's out of the bitter cold a bit more.

Among other things, some of the things that I have in abundance to work with are things that have been canned: ground beef, tomatoes, ham and ham broth, green beans, pears and pear sauce, and dried beans that have been canned.  I also have a bit of corn we have frozen, lots of noodles that I have purchased when on sale, eggs from our chickens, and quite a stash of wheat berries (to be ground for wheat flour).

Although the variety in our meals may lack a bit more than I would like, I think I can still have fruit, veggies, and protein for most meals.  Some of my meal ideas are soups, ham and noodles, french toast, pancakes, waffles, egg bakes, scrambled eggs, pasta dishes, enchilada dishes . . . I'm sure there's more. I'm hoping to cook through the cupboard through February, if Ethan can put up with it that long!

To start off, yesterday I ground up some wheat berries and made 6 loaves of whole wheat bread. (You can read about my Nutrimill wheat grinder and the Kitchenaid mixer I use at this post.) I used lard I had rendered from our pastured hogs, which I have quite a bit of too, in the bread for the oil. It really bakes and tastes quite good - no porky taste at all!  (You can read more about the health benefits of rendering your own lard here and here.) So yesterday we had french toast for supper and today we had sandwiches for lunch.

It will be interesting to see what all I can come up with to make the family happy at mealtime.  I hope that I am pleasantly surprised with how long I can cook out of our cupboards too, and hopefully it will get us to some warmer weather!

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Tools of My Trade
As mentioned above, my Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use is for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself, minus the cost of the wheat grinder. (I put my wheat grinder on my Christmas/January birthday list and asked gift givers to go together on it.) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. You can even make your own cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). See here for more information about grinding wheat at homeYou might be able to find a nice used one on e-bay, or you can purchase one new as in the link below.

My kitchenAid mixer was another jointly given Christmas/birthday gift.  It's most common use is for making bread, 3 loaves at a time.  The dough is worked entirely by the mixer with the dough hook, including the 10 minutes of kneading time.  The only hand work is dumping in ingredients and then forming the dough to fill my loaf pans.  I also use my Kitchen aid for mixing cakes, cookies, quick breads, for whipping . . . well, just about for all of my mixing! These can be found used on Ebay or you can purchase one new as in the link below.  I would strongly recommend getting the 5 qt, 325-watt mixer.  I have had friends get the smaller one and have been disappointed with the volume/motor capabilities.

When I started making bread, I just used basic loaf pans. After seeing how beautiful my friends bread baked up in 8 inch Norpro pans, I decided to put a set of 3 on my Christmas list. Not long after using them, I realized that I would really appreciate having 6 of them so that when one batch of bread is baking in the oven, I can get my second batch prepared, raised, and ready to go right into the oven too, without waiting for the previous bread and bread pans to cool. I like to make as many loaves as possible at once to cut down on the number of days of bread making kitchen mess. I received my second set of 3 pans the following Christmas, and when I make bread, I make bread! (I freeze the extra loaves so they are ready to go.)

Changing Seasons Giveaway - Winner!

Out of 32 responses, picked number 18. 
So the eligible winner is . . . Jenna Z! Thank you to everyone for the comments and for participating. :)

As you may have noticed, my posting is a little more frequent again. I think that is how this blog is going to be - back and forth with the seasons. Right now I am in a little season where I have some computer sitting time as I take care of my newest little one and as the older ones are resting. I'm going to take advantage of it, because I'm sure you all know that seasons come and go and can change quickly!

Right now I am actually thinking quite a bit about seasons changing in many different ways. One of these ways though is with our farm set up, particularly the yard area and the garden. Right now we really have not committed to anything specific with garden since it hasn't been that much of a focus since we moved here. (Not that I didn't want it to be - there's just a lot of things to focus on!) So I've been tossing around a lot of ideas about how to divide it up between vegetables and berries. I hope to have more posts on that later since I have a lot of thoughts and would appreciate outside input.

As with the garden not getting much focus yet, the yard is in the same boat. Besides a few saplings I planted last summer, our front yard is pretty much a blank slate. The only other thing out there besides the trees and fence is our wooden play set, which I have found that the kids use year round even with snow. (This was a gift from the kids' grandparents. My dad built it after I had done a lot of looking at wooden swing sets and had picked out just the right design.) Although I would like the yard to remain fairly open, I would like to do a bit more landscaping. I hope to toss out some posts and get thoughts and input on that as well.

While I've been thinking about changes in seasons, a great opportunity to host a giveaway from CSN stores came up, which is open to my US and Canadian readers. So for this giveaway, I'd like to offer you the chance to win something for the changing seasons!

If you happen to be the lucky winner, you may chose from the following:

Graniteware 9 Piece Canner Set - For preserving your summer and fall harvest to enjoy all year long.
Square Flower Box - Great for flowers or a patio garden.

Porter Cable 6 Amp drill - For those projects that pop up EVERY season of the year.

All you have to do is leave a comment with a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. To avoid spam, you are welcome to leave it in the "johndoe at email dot com" format. I will also delete all comments after the giveaway.

Until February 9th , all comments left with e-mails will be placed in the giveaway. Comments must be left on this post and not sent to my e-mail. Multiple comments from the same reader will disqualify the reader. The one exception, and the opportunity to put your name in twice, is to leave a 2nd comment with a link to your blog that tells about this giveaway (with your e-mail address again.) I will use to pick the winner and will announce the lucky reader shortly afterward.

Remember, you must have a US or Canadian mailing address to enter, and be sure to leave your e-mail address in your comment. :)

Thanks again for stopping by!
This is brought to you through me but hosted by CSN Stores. I received no form of payment for this giveaway.
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