Sunday, December 25, 2011

Solstmas Feast

We celebrated Winter Solstice and Christmas by feasting with  a dear friends, a bunch of folks we have celebrated many holidays with over the years, no, decades.  In keeping with the goals of the Dark Days of Winter Eating Local Foods challenge,  this was a SOLE meal: made from sustainable, organic, local and ethical ingredients.

The star ingredient of the meal might have been the greens, harvested from our high tunnel just moments before this photo was taken.  When we built and planted the unheated high tunnel last September, I was hoping we might still have greens for Thanksgiving.  But, because of the crazy warm weather, we are still harvesting chard, kale, spinach, carrots, pansies, beet greens, scallions, parsley and radishes in late December! I did not realize how incredibly sweet and delicious these veggies would be; the cold-weather growing spurs them to produce sugars which serve as antifreeze in the leaves and help them grow even tastier in the cold!
We planned a simple feast, featuring lasagna,  both vegetarian and carnivorous made with ground beef from our own steers and  a bit of local hot Italian sausage from  Misty Meadows Farm. We intended to make the mozzarella from milk from our cow LaFonda, but time ran out, simplicity won out, and we used organic mozzarella, cottage cheese and parmesan from the co-op, made from dairies in SE Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. Some of the greens were layered in the lasagnas.
The sauce was made from roasted tomatoes we had frozen from our garden last summer, as well as garden onions and garlic. We also grew some of the herbs.

Our daughter Sara is home and probably could have been persuaded to make the pasta--she and her friend are pasta entrepreneurs in Chapel Hill, NC (their operation is called Porcino) but since she is on a well-deserved vacation, I tried no-boil lasagna noodles from Trader Joe's (which were remarkably good!)
The finished meat lasagna, ready to serve.  Both lasagnas included mushrooms grown by Forest Mushrooms in St. Joseph, MN. The veggie lasagna also had organic garbanzo beans sprinkled  among the layers.

Accompanying the lasagna (but not photographed, alas!) were six loaves of whole wheat sourdough bread, made from our own 4-year-old sourdough starter and locally milled flour from Great River Organic Milling (leftover loaves went home with guests as Solstmas gifts),  a humongous salad made from our greens (and non-local organic pomegranate seeds, clementine sections, and toasted pumpkin seeds), a fabulous squash casserole contributed by Vera  and Earl (from a River Falls Farmers Market squash), and a few bottles of Jon's incredible homemade wine, made substantially from raspberries, elderberries, and currants his family had picked on their land.
You can't get much better than feasting on SOLE food with  the family and friends who feed your soul!
From the left: Our sweet friend Barb, wonderful Vera and Earl from River Falls,  Anne and Jon (best buddies from Dakota, where we raised our  children and celebrated many a Christmas together), my awesome husband/partner-in-farming Rog, Ian (Anne and Jon's eldest), our intrepid summer interns Brendan and Bethany, Camille (Anne and Jon's  youngest), Cadence (our younger daughter) and  our older daughter Sara - darn, I only caught the edge of Sara's lovely face in this photo.
Here is Sara.
The dinner was followed by decadent vanilla ice cream made by Sara from organic cream, raw sugar and vanilla, (in her other entrepreneurial venture, Sara makes gourmet ice cream sandwiches, delivered by bicycle: Bikescream.)  The ice cream was served with homemade hot fudge sauce --with exotic chocolate, pistachios and pomegranate seeds.  Bethany and Brendan brought homemade holiday cookies and Barb treated us to her famous Christmas cordial -- a top secret recipe, but I am pretty sure it must contains creme de cacao and  Benedictine.

Oh, yum! What a great way to celebrate the shortest day of the year and the  return of sunnier days.

A Little Christmas Swim

On Christmas Eve afternoon it was a crazy warm 46 degrees!  The poor ducks have been looking quite bedraggled and dirty without their daily swims the past month, so I decided to fill up the kiddie pool and let them take a little bath. Or should I say shower?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Home/Farm Improvement

We have now been living on our farm for three years.  One of the great things about moving here was that the house was not a fixer-upper, as most of the old farmhouses we looked at were; it had been lovingly maintained and updated. Thus, nearly all of our efforts over the past three years have focused on outbuildings and farm projects. I have been looking forward to this winter to finally tackle some indoor projects.

Project # 1 - Reupholster the breakfast chairs.  Last week, I un-upholstered the shiny yellow damask fabric that covered the seats of these two carved chairs I found at a thrift store.
The chairs had an interesting structural feature hidden under the cushion: strips of tire inner tubes woven to support the seat.  I like that recycling  strategy! A few strips had pulled out and needed to be reattached.
The finished chairs.  This is where we sit to drink our  morning coffee and watch the birds breakfasting at the feeders in the back yard.
#2 Dishwasher.  We got a new dishwasher a year and a half ago (after the old one leaked all under the floor), but last July it stopped running, and hasn't worked since, despite many service calls and replacing the control panel four times.  Finally the  manufacturer agreed to replace the lemon machine and  AT LAST, today, the new dishwasher was installed.  I washed a load of dishes and they came out sparkling. Hooray!
Project #3 - Hydrant. Well, back to an outside project.  A couple days after our well pump was replaced, I noticed that the hydrant by the chicken coop was leaking badly--it was standing in a pool of water.  Rog dug down to see if it was something he could fix, but the hydrant needed replacing.  Mark, the  well and pump guy we are getting to know all too well lately, arrived with  a backhoe today to replace the hydrant.
Mark's assistant down in the hole, pulling out the hydrant. On the bright side, it was an unheard-of  40-degree December day, so the ground wasn't even frozen. On the dark side, the ground wasn't even frozen and now there is a huge  muddy mess from all the digging and water. On the bright side, it is bound to get  really cold in a day or two and all the mud will freeze solid and be covered by snow. We won't have to worry about it until spring.
Project #4,  Meanwhile, back in the house, I am tackling my next upholstery project, this sofa, also obtained at a thrift store (I like furniture with history.) It is in really great condition, but the shiny blue striped fabric has to go.
The hardest part  about upholstering is the un-upholstering part.  This piece was seriously constructed. intended to not come apart too easily. I removed thousands of staples. When my poor arthritic wrist gave out,  Rog removed a couple thousand more. Then, as long as we had the fabric off, we touched up the finish of the wood.

Sometimes you find a bit of change and a few lost treasures in the crevices -- we found a bunch of Legos, two tiny plastic  dinosaurs and 52 cents.
I was hoping to be further along than this by tonight, but now, attaching the first few pieces you can get a sense of where it is going.  I intend to use ten or twelve different fabrics in mostly earthy green, gold and terra cotta patterns. My goal is to get this sofa done in the next couple days so we can clean up my sewing mess (you can't see  it in this photo, but there is quite an impressive mess) and put up the Christmas tree. Then we will sit on the sofa and admire the tree. Or maybe sit under the tree and admire the sofa.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark Days Challenge: Week 1 - A Whole Darn Local Foods Day

This is the first week of the Dark Days Local Food Challenge, in which we are supposed to prepare, eat and blog about one local foods meal a week throughout the short days of winter.  I signed on to this challenge thinking it would be easy since we grow most of our own food, but it will definitely be a bit more challenging during the Minnesota winter when, deprived of fresh garden produce, we often succumb to exotic produce temptations like avocados, oranges and mangos.

We launched the Dark Days challenge with a local foods breakfast. Our dear friend Vera joined us for breakfast and the menu was multigrain pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese and scallions, and bacon.  The eggs came fresh from our own sweet chickens (0 miles).  Ordinarily I make pancalkes from scratch, but I wanted to try the pancake mix from the Whole Grain Milling Co in Welcome, MN (135 miles) because it has received rave reviews.   The bacon was from the Good Food Store co-op - labeled "local" despite being from LeMars, Iowa (264 miles). Normally we purchase bacon at the Farmers Market from a nearby farmer but we missed the previous market day because our cow hoof trimmer was here:
(Our milk cow LaFonda getting her hooves trimmed last weekend- see last year's Hoof Trimming post for complete details.)
It was a classic farm breakfast--not very original, but very delicious! We scrambled the eggs with cheddar cheese curds from Kaplan Farm in Chatfield, MN (30 miles),  scallions from our high tunnel greenhouse and dried tomatoes from our garden last summer (0 miles).   The butter  for the pancakes was from Organic Valley (SE MN farms) and the honey and  maple syrup (0 miles) were from our own farm. It was my first crop of honey form my own bees this fall.  The maple syrup is from the silver maple trees in our yard collected last March --it takes 60 gallons of silver maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!

Although Rog and I drank  non-local coffee (not grown locally, but sold by City Kid Java, which benefits urban kids in Minneapolis, MN  - 85 miles) and Vera drank tea made from dried mint and wild nettles gathered on our farm.  Stinging nettles are not a very fun plant to weed out of the gardenbut they are delicious and nutritious to consume, both as cooked greens and dried for tea.
When you combine  breakfast and lunch into brunch, you only need two meals a day! Our evening meal was mostly comprised of farm ingredients: 
 A green salad made from fresh chard (biondi di lyon and rainbow) and beauty heart radishes from our high tunnel greenhouse (0 miles), tossed in a salad with roasted pepitas (? miles), crimini mushrooms grown by Forest Mushrooms in St Joseph, MN (156 miles)  and homemade honey-mustard dressing (honey from our bees - 0 miles).

We roasted beets from our garden (0 miles) and tossed them with  ground pepper and a bit of  balsamic vinegar (Italy--many miles).
The T-bone steak came from one of our own grass-fed steers harvested last summer (0 miles).  I slathered it with spicy ground mustard and broiled it.   Even though it is incredibly delicious beef, I have to admit I wept as I ate the first few meals from this beast we had raised from infancy.

The steak was served with the roasted beets and roasted baby onions grown in our garden, baked acorn squash drizzled with melted butter and farm honey, and accompanied by a delectable bottle of GoGo Red wine from Cannon River Winery  (45 miles).

A simple, local feast fit for kings -- or farmers!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Assorted Cold Cuts

We are in a cold spell. Our high temp was 11 degrees F today and it  is expected to  dip well below zero tonight. I had intended to wrap up my beehives before this, but it turned out we had used up all our scraps of insulation. The cold weather was incentive for me to  actually purchase a new 4 x 8 sheet of -inch foam insulation this afternoon and  tackle this little project.

I used Gorilla tape to secure the  panels to three sides of the hives; the salesman assured me Gorilla tape is much stronger than duct tape in cold weather.  It's not very pretty, but it was fast and easy and didn't upset the bees with hammers or screwdrivers.  I left the south-facing sides uncovered.  They need ventilation and it is better if the hive doesn't get too warm or the bees will be more active and use up their honey stores too fast.
Despite the cold, a few of the guard bees on the Langstroth hive came to the door to see what was going on. When I pressed my ear next to the wall I could hear a low humming in all three of the hives, indicating to me that so far the bees must be ok.
It was only  about 3:15 when I finished the beehives, but we are approaching the shortest day of the year and the sun was already quite low in the sky, so I decided to  do the chores a bit early.
First, the poultry. Every winter we have attempted to  persuade the ducks and guineas to move into the chicken coop, but they always chose to live in the barn.  This year  I didn't even try and they  decided on their own to move into the coop.  There are a lot of birds in there - about 35 hens, a few roosters,3 ducks, and 8 guineas. Oh,and a small flock of sparrows who are squatting in the rafters.  It is  really noisy at feeding time.
Fortunately, the coop is subdivided into three rooms with several levels so the birds can  claim their own space. The largest is the the room on the south with lots of windows and roosts on three walls. Most of the birds sleep here at night.
The middle room is small and enclosed - it is where I raise chicks and introduce new chickens. The door is removed now so the chickens can use it and have more space.
The third room is where the nesting buckets are (today I got 6 eggs- not bad, considering I am not extending daylight hours by using lights.)  I put chicken feed in all three rooms to avoid squabbling for food.  So far, everyone seems to be getting along well, despite the close winter quarters.
After the chickens, I feed the cows. They are creatures of routine and seemed surprised I was feeding them early.  Jitterbug was still nursing. You can see how big she is getting (but she is small compared to Lindyhop!)
The four cows are consuming more than 3 bales of hay a day, plus a bit of grain.  That's more than twice as much as last year when we only had the two pregnant cows, and it was much colder last winter.  But Lariat and LaFonda are both pregnant and still nursing their calves - I guess it it takes a lot to feed these growing calves.
It has been so cold, I am afraid our unheated high tunnel greenhouse may be done for the year.   Inside, the sun was glowing through thick frost on the stretched poly walls.
The  Tuscan kale was slumped over and wilty, as were the scallions, chard and beets. However, according to the thermometer it was 28 F under the row covers (it was 10F outside), Most of the crops in the high tunnel can take the 28F temperature,  so there is a slight chance they will recover if it doesn't get much colder tonight.  It is supposed to warm up a bit over the next few days -- it would be delightful to have garden greens for Christmas.
After our 5-inch snow a few days ago, I roof-raked the bottom edge of the solar panels. Even though it has been cold, most of the snow has now melted enough to slide off, so the panels are clear and generating electricity.
Now, back to the indoor projects.  I may be nuts, but I have decided to reupholster two side chairs and a sofa. Here is the first chair, as I started tearing off the upholstery yesterday.  I am hoping to get them done this weekend so I can clear away the mess and decorate for the holidays next week. I best get working on those chairs now...