Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sweet Corn Relish and Corn Chowder

We love corn 'round these parts and since corn is just now hitting the stands at the farmers' markets, we've been indulging ourselves. Today we made Sweet Corn Relish. I found a recipe, Blue-Ribbon Corn Relish, in magazine entitled Canning (creative name, eh?) and made some changes.

Sweet Corn Relish

8 cups of fresh corn (approx. 8-10 ears)
2 cups water
3 cups chopped celery (3 or 4 stalks)
2 medium sweet red peppers, chopped
2 medium green peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. pickling salt
2 tsp. celery seed
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3 tsp. cornstarch
3 Tbs. water

The first step in this awesome relish is to remove the husks from your corn. We actually love to use these husks and silk in our sheet composting ventures. Right now these very same greens, pictured above, are layered in among other compostables and newspaper beneath my Sumatrian Plum tree. Wash your corn and scrub with a veggie brush to remove all the silks still attached to the corn.

After washing said corn, remove the kernels from the cob. Place kernels along with 2 cups of water in a large stock pot. Add 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Once the water reaches a roiling boil, lower temperature and cover. Simmer for a few minutes until corn is almost tender. Drain and return to your massive stock pot.

Chop your celery, peppers and onions; add to corn. At this time you'll also want to add the turmeric, celery seed, pickling salt, sugar, mustard and vinegar. Simmer, sans lid, for 5 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.

While your veggie concoction is simmering away on the stove, mix together in a small bowl, the cornstarch and 3 tablespoons of water. Stir the starchy water into your veggies and cook and stir and cook and stir and so on for a handful of moments until it's slightly thickened and bubbling.

Scoop your Sweet Corn Relish into hot, sterilized pint jars that have been patiently waiting in the oven. Leave a 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the jar rims and place your lids. Process your jars in a hot water bath. They need to be boiled for 15 minutes. When your 15 minutes is up, place jars on a wire drying rack or whatnot until they're cool. This recipe makes 6 pints with a little left over for some after-canning snackings.

Sweet Corn Relish is not only tasty but beautiful in the jar. This makes a great gift partnered with a bag of homemade tortilla chips or a loaf of fresh bread coupled with a local pilsner or sun tea.

One of my favorite soups in the whole world, Fresh Corn Chowder, requires almost the exact same ingredients as the Sweet Corn Relish. I found this recipe years ago in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Other Timeless Delicacies by Mollie Katzen, the author of the Moosewood Cookbook. Depending on the time of year, whether or not I'm forced to use frozen corn or fresh or if I've forgotten to pick up a certain ingredient at the market, this recipe can be extremely flexible and always tastes stunning.

Fresh Corn Chowder

2 Tbs. fresh butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 minced celery
1 sweet red bell pepper, minced
4 cups fresh sweet corn (approx. 4-5 ears)
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 cup stock or water
1 cup evaporated milk (or regular milk)

Like the previous recipe, begin with getting the corn buck naked. Make sure that there's no silk left on the corn before you cut the corn off the cob. Many a time we've been lazy and neglected to de-silk the corn properly and have paid the price while eating later. Silks get stuck in your teeth and don't have the best texture for soup. Place naked, de-cobbed corn in a bowl and set it aside for later incorporation.

In a medium sized sauce pan, saute the chopped onion in the butter. Cook the onion to a beautiful, buttery translucence. Add minced celery. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Then add chopped peppers and corn.

Seasoning time! Reduce heat slightly and add seasonings; stir well and cover. Let her cook for another 5 minutes or so until all the veggies are slightly soft and the flavors are meshing well.

Add stock. We like to use our own chicken stock, from our own chickens, and haven't ever used anything else. Thus said, my preference is to use chicken stock. You can use vegetable stock if you're not into the meat thing or water works as well.

Simmer for about 10 minutes. Using a blender or food processor, puree about half of the soup's solids in its own liquid. Add the yellow goo back to your soup and simmer again.

About 10 minutes before you plan to serve, lower the temperature to medium-low and add the evaporated milk. Raise the heat slowly, gently, to eating temperature. Do not bring to a boil as scorched evaporated milk does not taste very good.

Dig in! This soup is great paired with a light salad on a warm summer evening. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Real Happy Meals

A huge part of what we do here on the 'stead is growing our own meat. We're not large enough to raise a cow or have multiple pigs, but we are big enough to grow our own chicken, duck, goose, turkey, guinea hen and rabbit. We've been blessed in that we've always been able to fill our freezers with poultry meat for the whole year, within a season. And every year we experiment with different ways to keep our flock healthy and happy. A happy hen or roo makes for a happy meal. The flocks' regular diet consists of Payback Organic Pellet, Scratch and Peck whole seed and variously gleaned fruits, veggies and otherwise composted foods. Our flock free ranges on about .25 of an acre. Well, I should say their fenced area is about .25 of an acre. Unfortunatly for me, fortunatly for them, I'm horrible at building secure fencing. They roam freely throughout the garden and front orchard. Luckily, our neighbors are spectacular as about a dozen of our ladies like to congregate in their front yard on a daily basis.
In addition to their wild wanderings, we've tried to offer them variety and fun in their Habbitat. After Christmas every year, we collect unwanted christmas trees and leave them in the Habbitat for more natural nesting and resting areas. The grass grows taller around these dead trees and offer wonderful little hiding places for broody hens or cranky roos. They also provide excellent bug hunting grounds. In an attempt to create more diversity, we decided to try something new this year with pallets and left-over seeds, inspired by accident. Earlier this spring I read an amazing article about the taste of eggs in regard to the season. Eggs, of course, taste differently according to what the hen has eaten and is experiencing. In the spring the eggs are deeply yellow and rich, because the insects and wet roots she eats are abundant in the fresh spring weather. Early fall, the eggs are lighter in color and lighter in taste, because she's eaten more grasses and forage and is hiding out from the heat, thereby not eating as much. In an attempt to affect the flavor of the eggs, and encourage more natural behavior in the flock, I mounded a couple long rows of compost into which I planted last years' left over seed. Over the top I placed several pallets, laid side by side. The idea is that as the plants under the cover of the pallets begin to grow, the chickens, geinea hens, ducks and geese will feast on the leaves and veggies without digging up the roots and killing the plant. So far it's worked wonderfully, though I'll save my praise until the end of fall to see how well it worked throught the seasons. I planted squash, beans, sunflowers, wild grasses, lettuce and melons. Stay tuned to see how well it works!
When we first began raising our own meat a few years ago, everyone told us not to love, name or become attached to any of the animals destined for dinner. We tried to be stoic and removed and it honestly didn't work for us. I've discovered that despite what others have said, it's a more complete transition from backyard bird to dinner plate if we allow ourselves to love along the way. To understand the sacrifice it takes to kill a living being in order to live, we must first treat that living being with the respect and love it deserves. With that in mind, we totally love on all our birds, layers and meat alike. If anything, over the years I'd say we feel closer to the animils we claim as food then when we started. This year, all of our ducks and many of our chickens we hatched ourselves. Lovingly cleaning them of their broken shells at birth, caring for them throughout their lives, cherishing them by name and recognition of their personalities and in the end, delicately leading them through the process of their death. I think we'd all swear to the fact that these birds bring a whole different meaning to the term Happy Meal.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It's May Yo'

What a month! Despite the fact that every Spring I promise myself that this season's gonna be different. I'm not going to go overboard and I'm going to go easy with the farm and garden. This year, I promise, I'm gonna enjoy myself. I vow to have more bbq's, sleep in more, go camping and hiking during the week, every week and read during the day. Lies! All lies! Despite my best intentions, every May, life becomes an open circus and this year was no different. Of course, looking back it looks like a we all had a blast. Maybe we did and maybe hindsight is the correct way to look at our experiences. It felt like running crazy! We started the month with Josh's 12th birthday. Josh is my oldest baby. Joshua made me a mom. Before Josh, I myself was a baby. Literally, I was 19. He helped me form my view of the world and my place it in. We celebrated our big day with an excursion to the beach to obtain some big, beautiful, fresh crab. And since my mother was driving, that meant that we had to stop at every possible water source and explore. I think we left that morning at 5am. We didn't reach Tillamook until 10am, if that tells you anything.  
Life is everywhere on the farm this month! Now I'm not super great at giving you or anyone an accurate count of the critters that at any point live here at Blue Moon. I'm so bad that I didn't realize one of our Rouen hens went off (most likely to our neighbor Bernhard's yard) and had a little clutch of 4 babes until she decided to parade them up to the front yard one beautiful day this past month. I swear she just wanted to show off her brood because she didn't really do anything except march up the side drive, with her little ones trailing behind her, and then turn around and run back. Of course, I was chasing after her trying to snap a photo.
Our poor neighbor Bernhard has so much to put up with as our neighbor. The other night I decided that he had been left out of our Prank Wars and that the situation could only be remedied by a great prank. See, we prank our other neighbors all the time. We've t.p.'d the inside and outside of their house, we've socked (which necessitated over 4,000 socks, saved and gleaned together over a 6 month period) the inside of every drawer, item in the refrigerator and cupboard. We've plastic wrapped their truck among other less time consuming tricks but felt that Bernhard deserved some fun too. Sooo, I tore apart our library and garage and outfitted his front yard with a living room set. It was pretty great.
One of the saddest days in May was the day that we had to take Maybelle, our beloved Alpine, to my girlfriends house out in the woods. She just ate so much and I decided that it was unfair of me to not have more forage for her. So at least for now, she'll be living with a great family out past Eagle Creek on the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood. Once we got her there we made an amazing discovery. Despite the fact that Maybelle has been my great companion for the past few years (she goes on walks with us around the neighborhood and is always following me like a dog here on the property), Maybelle is not genetically a female! Maybelle has a penis! How could I have missed this? What I thought was utters were in fact deflated (fixed) balls! Needless to say, I was shocked. She thought I was being ridiculous and chewed my fingers. Regardless of what her plumbing says, Maybelle identifies herself as a lady and so do I.

Spring is chick time! All of our chicks are now old enough to be outside and just like every other year, there's a few stand outs in the crowd. I've never been great at culling, not so great at it in fact that I don't do it. So I guess I'm not a real farmer. Which is great news for Capt' Jack Sparrow and her partner Sierra. Capt' is a fizzle and I'm not quite sure what Sierra is but both of these chicks were in our handicap brooder and nobody expected either to fully thrive. So we babied them, of course. They lived in the house at night much longer then they probably should have. They receive daily baths in the bathroom sink and hard boiled eggs and treats just about every day as well. Capt' Jack Sparrow has a neurological disorder and has occasional seizures when frightened. She also bobs her head endlessly and cannot clean her undercarriage. Another interesting thing about Capt'  is that she's got extra toes, useless, that grow on the tops of her feet. Sierra came from Naomi's and had a peculiar condition that I've been unable to completely diagnose. She had a tiny body with large wings that grew away from her body and a tiny little butt. Having raised hundreds of birds over the last 5 years, I've noticed a thing about those birds with wings that grow away from their bodies and tiny butts. They rarely thrive. Sierra wasn't selling at Naomi's, partially because she didn't look too healthy, so Stella worked at Naomi's shop painting the bathroom to earn her. Neil, Naomi's partner, advised Stella to pick another bird because he'd come to the same conclusion I had, those birds rarely live, but Stella wouldn't hear of it. She brought Sierra home to be be Capt' Jack Sparrow's partner. Despite Sierra's extra attention, I had to clean her bottom everyday because her vent was constantly clogged. Both these lady's are now thriving and live right in our unfenced front yard and perch every night with Pearl and Auntie Ma'am, our older handicap ladies, on our front porch. We see so many sad things with the animals here at the farm that it's absolutely uplifting to see such an obvious success story.
Although we didn't raise the quantity of chicks that we have in previous years, we did raise quite a few. In addition to the chicks from the hatchery, Naomi's Organic Farm Supply and other random pick-ups, we raised quite a few of our own ducks from our own backyard drake and hens. Nik built me this beautiful run for the ducks in our front yard. They've got wonderful natural cover from a couple of Japanese Maples and a little feeding pond that we regularly stock with goldfish. They're all mixed with some form of runner duck and they're hilarious to watch running around in a group. Everyone in the pond and then up and out and do a loop around the enclosure and then hide under the tree quacking and then start all over again. Hilarious! If you're sad, may I suggest runner ducks????

We're all so lucky to have the things in life that we have. Family, friends, animals, leisure time, freedom of religion and speech, freedom of choice. Sometimes I feel so spoiled, how can I be anything but happy? A few weeks ago after a day of fence building and gardening, I was bit by a hobo spider. Although it hurt, it wasn't that bad. I went into the doctor and was promptly put on antibiotics. That following week I began to feel sicker and more ill, with migraines and no energy. Then a horrible rash that looked like burns, covered my body, from nose to toes. I spent some time in the hospital and discovered that I'm allergic to the antibiotic that I received for the bite. My bone marrow was compromised and I had no white blood cells to speak of. All my other counts were down and for awhile there, I was really scared. At the risk of sounding cliche, I began to review my life and I realized just how great I've got it. I am so thankful to God. I am surrounded by amazing, beautiful friends, family, life. I'm so glad I've chosen to live my beliefs! I may look a little weird to folks that don't know me and like a complete dork to those that do but I'm so happy that we've chosen the path we've chosen. I really realized who, in our crazy busy life, really truly care and I'm so blessed to know them! Thank you all!
Happy Spring all!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reused cloth bags

 My friend Naomi owns this great little farm and garden store in SE Portland called Naomi's Organic Farm Supply store and she recently spoke with me about making cloth bags for her store, with her name stamped on the front. Great advertisement for her as well as being a much needed creative outlet for yours truly. This is what I've come up so far...
I really dig reusing while conserving both our economic and environmental resources. Luckily we live just a few miles away from The Bins. The Bins is a Goodwill Outlet store, we just call it The Bins because everything is in these 20ft long bins; you've got to dig for your treasure. It usually stinks in The Bins and we've found some pretty gnarly stuff that I'd be remiss to describe here, in amongst some retro jewels. It's proven to be an excellent source of random fabrics.
 I found this great old skirt with little mirrors along the bottom that I was able to cut up and use in two different bags. Nik stops by on his way home occasionally and he's picked me up lots of old doilies and dishrags that I mash up and use as fun little add-ons. Each bag is reversible and super sturdy. The idea is that they'll eventually be used as grocery/farm bags. 
 In total, I've made maybe 10 prototype bags (as I had to write up my own pattern) and 4 finished bags. And it only took me 3 weeks! I'm sure I'll get faster and more proficient as time flows along.
P.S. I thought I'd also throw this one in. Another friend just had a babe and I thought, what better then a reversible baby bag with tons of pockets and a little secret on the bottom of the inside? Nothing! So Josh and I whipped this bad boy up. I kinda wish I could keep it now.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Duckie duckie

 Jason heard the first * cheep * cheep * cheep * cheep* cheep * cheep * cheep
 And we all crowd around the Eggsabator (incubator)
 to see little pieces of egg shell crumbling off our lovely little eggs.
 And feathers begin to emerge from between the edges of thick shell.
 One wing flops out
 and another.
Suddenly she straightens her neck out from the unbelievable pretzel position she'd spent her embryonic days growing in to.
 Pushing her webbed feet against the inside of the egg...
 She squeaks as she's pushing, so hard. Come on baby! We whisper encouragement.
As she lays, spent from the exhausting effort it took to birth herself, we stand amazed by the miracle we've just witnessed. 

She and her siblings are full of miracles. 

Earlier that day, they narrowly escaped death by my hand. As their time of birth grew closer, someone (a beautiful little someone) accidentally turned up the heat in the Eggsabator. When I discovered the temperature error the following morning, it was well past 106 degrees. According to the books I've ingested regarding incubation, embryo death occurs at 103 degrees. That morning I was distraught by the thought of our unfortunately cooked babes and decided to candle (holding a flashlight to the bottom of the egg to discern if there's life present) the eggs. I saw no life in the turkey eggs, no movements or chirping, which had previously been evident. The duck eggs were so thick that I was unable to see into their living centers. I assumed they were dead. Stella gathered the eggs together in her skirt and raced outside to "bury" them in the compost. Not two moments later she rushed back into the house, screaming and crying frantically and I'm just able to gather that there was a great deal of blood and chirping in the compost bin. We all race outside together and what do we behold? A cracked egg with movement beneath the thin inner layer and blood around the cracked shell. Aghast at my attempted murder, we gently carry them back into the house and return them to the Eggsabator. Later that day we welcomed our first hatchling, aptly named Compost. In all, we've hatched 10  beautiful ducklings with 9 surviving. What have we learned through this experience? 

That life is a hardy thing and that mothers are fallible.


I'd like to introduce you to Freddie, the newest addition to our homestead. Freddie is a 1950's Janome New Home sewing machine that somewhat resembles, in my opinion, a 1958 Dodge Dart. I was in great need of a heavy duty sewing machine as I've recently been asked to create a line of shopping bags for my great friend Naomi, of Naomi's Organic Farm Supply fame. My last machine, unfortunately, was cursed. Through no fault of my own, the timing got all screwed up and I was unable to retain my loyalty for the 1970's Brother that used to aid in my creations. RIP Brother. My wonderful mother not only found Freddie, she bought him for me as well. Thanks mom!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hola amigos! It's been awhile, quite awhile, since I last posted. We've experienced a great deal of upheaval since I last wrote; such is life! We planned, organized and designed my girlfriends wedding (it turned out amazing!); my grandmother, whom I had been caring for this past year, left this life in December; I rewrote our curriculum and we've welcomed an abundance of life and mourned our fair share of death on the farm in the last few months.
There's really too much to recount so I'll begin anew, with trying to hatch some eggs. As we have mating pairs of geese, turkeys, ducks and chickens, we decided to side step the whole buying of baby chicks this year. Of course, I'm sure we'll still pick up a few adorable associates along the way, we've decided to try and breed, hatch and raise our own butcher stock this year. My mother so kindly donated a mid-range incubator and I've spent the last two days pouring over poultry books trying to decipher exactly how to ensure a healthy hatching. After ascertaining that I'll most likely fail, I threw our clutch in the incubator, or as I've fondly begun to refer to it - The Eggzabator, last night. Included in our hatch hopefuls are 6 turkey eggs, 12 duck eggs and a lonely goose egg. The problem with incubating these three breeds together is that the duck and goose eggs need more humidity then do the turkey eggs. And since I can't figure out how to get the Eggzabator to get more humid, I just threw them all together and I'm innocently, or ignorantly, hoping for the best. I never said I was a great farmer, just an enthusiastic one!
Another wonderful addition to the 'stead is Whitney Houston. What a horrible name, you say? Yes, I do have to agree with you. Unfortunately, I had no say in this matter. The story is long and sad and sweet; I'll begin. Arwen was accidentally impregnated, through lackadaisical farm standards assuredly. We didn't even realize she was prego until a week before she delivered. The day of her birthing, February 12, I inspected her to see if she had any telltale discharge from her vagina, as usually occurs in almost laboring nannies. As discharge was discernibly absent, I relaxed and went about my day, to be culminated in a date night with my partner Nik.
6pm finds me looking pretty and ready to hit the town (the local bar) when my mom calls frantically saying that she heard splashing water in the barn. Now, as preface to what I've just relayed, I must explain that there are two houses on our property. My Mum lives closer to the Habitat (barn yard) and is always calling to say that the animals are making weird noises. Keep in mind weird noises are what barn yard animal do. A squawk this way to mean that, a quack that way to mean this. That's what they do. Anyhow, she calls to say she hears running water, or splashing in the back and she's worried there's a raccoon killing the goats or something. Nik and I run back to the Habitat, as we always do when my mother worries, and what do we find? Arwen, in labor, with two babies at her feet and a third halfway out. Now did I mention how cute I looked? I looked good! And here I was, about to kneel in the hay and blood and all sorts of fluid from a birthing mama goat. Why do I even try? Anyhow, after pushing the last baby free, Arwen immediately stands and starts licking clean the larger, brownish kid. The other two she ignores. At first I thought the first one she had birthed was dead. He was covered in amniotic fluid and didn't seem to be breathing. I cleaned his face and that of the last kid born. The larger one, the one Arwen immediately took to, was already up and around, nursing some of that excellent colostrum. I tried for quite some time to get her to nurse the other two; she just wouldn't. After about 30 minutes, I took the two small kids inside.
For the next two days I bottle fed them every few hours and tried to help them thrive. They began to walk about 12 hours after they were born and I had the highest of hopes. I even named them in the belief that my positive energy and love could help them thrive. I named them Zora Neale Hurston and Herman Hesse. Good, powerful names after favorite authors. Unfortunately, they both passed within 4 days of life. They both passed at Woodburn Veterinary Clinic, after lots of time, energy and money. During that time my mom took it upon herself to name the surviving kid. I was so busy with the two runts that I gave no thought to her naming choices. Whitney Houston... Oh woe! The travesty of her discretion on top of the death of two beloved babes! I was in a funk that was inescapable for a week.

Whitney is now healthy and happy and the light of our farming days. She's got more personality then a lot of folks I know and she's never above a romp. I choose to take every experience as a learning opportunity and try to never miss the simple joyful happenstances that can be found. Apart from being more careful of breeding mishaps, I've come to cherish Miss Whitney more then I had hoped as she symbolizes the dichotomy of birth and death, renewal and the passing of energies. And she loves to poo on Nik's favorite chair in the living room. His subsequent annoyance is the remedy for all that ills!

Happy wintering!