Sunday, October 28, 2007

Finding a New Creamery

We've been looking for a local creamery, but unfortunately had heard some negative reviews about the one nearest to us. So we went looking in a neighboring state, being only a few miles from the border. When we got there, however, and I began poking around and asking questions, since it was only a store-front and bottling plant, I found out that the claims of local on the website no longer held true, as they'd recently lost their two biggest local contracts to Organic Valley and are now trucking all their milk in from Lancaster, PA. That tidbit along with the fact that we didn't actually know who the farmers were never mind getting to see the farms, we decided to investigate our local dairy for ourselves.

So we headed down to South Mountain Creamery, which is open to the public every day. It was too dark to get photos of the machine milking, but the milking parlor was really interesting. While I'd known the cows would be machine milked, the kids had never seen anything like it and had just assumed the cows would be milked by hand like they'd seen me doing with our goat, Latte. They were a bit put out about that and even a bit disgusted—and really, it's kinda hard not to be. Even a small dairy like this is so big that it requires a certain level of mechanization.

Here's a photo of the calf barn, yet another down side to industrialized dairy. While the kids had a lot of fun feeding the calves, I had a really hard time with the idea that the babies are taken away from their mamas and confined to these, oh, maybe 4' x 6' stalls for the early part of their lives. Even many home dairies opt to separate mama from baby and bottle raise the babies exclusively, a practice that didn't sit well with me. At home, we opted to separate mama and baby overnight and take the first morning milk for ourselves, allowing them to range together the rest of the day with on-demand nursing. Latte's kid, Dragon, is still trying to nurse at five months, though she's beginning to wean him naturally. So, until we can get our own Jersey for home milking, small-scale, local industrial milk is the lesser of two evils. There are definite down-sides to this creamery, but I have a hard time imagining that an industrial dairy somewhere else, not open for public inspection, is going to be any cleaner, any more humane, any more in line with our values of sustainability. So, for now, this is our local dairy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 2

I'll be updating this post throughout the week, rather than posting separately on our different meals. Week one was a short, quick week, so it featured only one meal. I'll try to be better about posting (and taking photos of!) different meals in the subsequent weeks.

Zero Mile Meals:

Breakfasts are nearly always zero mile meals, often featuring homemade toast, grape or strawberry jam, and our own free-range eggs, which are, in my opinion, the most perfect food ever—filled with flavor and a built in sauce, just doesn't get any better than that!

Rosemary and garlic roast pork tenderloin, roasted butternut squash stuffed with garlic zucchini hash, roasted sweet olive tomatoes with garlic and green pepper, homemade ciabatta bread, and a side salad with oakleaf and red salad bowl lettuces, gold nugget tomatoes, red onion and carrot. I brined the tenderloin for about 2 hours before cooking, and it was superb! We had some spring garlic coming up because it's been so warm, so I chopped that up and used it in the rub for the pork. Mmmmm. Everything you see here was produced on farm except for the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, flour, salt and pepper.

25 Mile Meals:

On this particular morning, I enjoyed a breakfast burrito on a homemade tortilla stuffed with eggs, salt-cured bacon, and sauteed green onion and green zebra tomato—all zero mile. What bumped this into the 25 mile category was the local cheddar cheese from Trickling Springs Creamery because I'm all about the cheese.

Roast beef with gravy, roasted carrots and onions, kale sauteed in olive oil and garlic, sliced Brandywine tomato, and homemade ciabatta bread. All the produce came from our farm. Yes, we're still getting tomatoes at the end of October! Crazy weather. I'll be picking a bunch of the green ones this week to save in the root cellar.

Again, a zero mile meal but for the meatballs, which bumped us up to a 15 mile meal and are totally worth it. I eat way too many of these when I make them, and of course, having bought half a cow, we have lots of ground beef in the freezer! This meal featured homemade ciabatta bread and angel hair pasta, with a slow-simmered sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and oregano all grown here on the farm, in addition to a salad of mixed baby greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. The greens included tatsoi, broccoli raab, kale, speckled bibb, oakleaf, and black seeded simpson lettuces.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge: Week 1

Chevon fillet, risotto with goat cheese and roasted sweet olive tomatoes, herb focaccia bread, salad with red salad bowl and black seeded simpson greens, onion, walnuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

A zero mile meal but for the...

-vinaigrette made from scratch here with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, cayenne pepper and sea salt;

-the risotto, made with zero mile chicken stock;

-and the goat cheese, she admitted sheepishly or goatishly as the case may be, because I didn't have any made this week, so we dipped into Julia's stash.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dark Days Eat Local Challenge

I was disappointed when I missed out on One Local Summer, so when this challenge came up, I jumped on it rather than hemming and hawing like I did last time 'round. This one looks like even more fun, largely because I'm looking forward to the added challenge of eating locally through the winter.

We run a very small CSA (though I prefer to think of it as exclusive)—one of the reasons I hemmed and hawed, feeling that our focus on zero mile meals might seem unfair or off skew somehow. This was our first year as a CSA, so we're still learning a lot. Our seasonal shares just finished this week, but we have two annual members whose share continues through the end of the year. So we'll be supporting three families through these dark days with local produce. Having never done this before, I'm hopeful, excited, and a bit apprehensive because I don't have experience with a winter garden. But there's a first time for everything, and I'm a jump-in-with -two-feet kinda gal.

Since the rules are that each participant gets to set his/her own rules, mine are few and simple: (Gee, Jenny, I'm just full of rules these days, huh? ;)

  1. We'll be cooking at least two zero mile meals per week, and the rest will have a 100 mile radius.
  2. Exemptions are oils, spices, and flour/rice/grains, which we've yet to find a viable local source. When possible, we'll go regional, trying to confine our purchases to our own country and coast.
  3. Everything will be made from scratch, turning it into a version of local. I figure our zero mile and scratch emphasis kinda balance out the whole grain thing.

We've been preserving quite a bit this year, so we have a fair amount of meat, produce, jam, sauce, etc. to draw upon over the coming months. We grow much of our own food, with the exception of beef, which we buy from a farm less than 15 miles down the road. We've butchered our own chicken, turkey, duck, and goat, and have our pigs processed at a local abattoir, but then cure and season all our own cuts. After two years living on the farm, we've become steeped in local and seasonal eating, but there's still room for improvement and challenges like these help point to the areas that need work and provide motivation.

Thanks, Laura, for putting this together!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Crude Awakening, or Preparing for Peak Oil

Okay, so I've known about peak oil for a while but have deliberately chosen not to go there and nurture my tendency to focus on gloom and doom—basically the same reason that I don't watch nightly news broadcasts or the kinds of tv dramas that scream "be afraid!" I find it easier to live from a place of peace and joy when I resist allowing fear and negativity to seep into my thoughts. Broad scope knowledge that enables me to move in the direction of change is a good thing; wallowing in obsessive worry over the unknown, not so good.

This past week, I decided to let little bits of information into my insulated world via the documentary A Crude Awakening, figuring it wouldn't be nearly so apocalyptic as Kunstler's The Long Emergency, if his blog and other folks' reaction to his book are any indication. (Of course, then I did have to put a hold on the one copy of his book available in my library system, so I'm sure I'll post once I've read it. It is almost winter after all, and I'm looking for some thought-provoking reading material.)

Did the documentary tell me anything I didn't already know? No, but it did offer some thoughtful sound bytes, like the idea that our grandchildren may never know the possibility of air travel. Little things like that make perfect sense when I hear them, but I'd just never quite framed the reality in mundane terms like that. The problem, however, is that I've now let the doomsday scenarios that had previously haunted my walks through the pasture become more than just niggling little what-ifs and take on the insidious form of pressure to prepare and doubts of whether we're doing enough.

But what is enough? That's the real question, isn't it. Because few people in the circles I travel would argue that peak oil is a reality (extended family aside), though there would be lively debate as to whether it has already occurred or is still impending in the next few decades. The real point of debate and conjecture is what the heck to prepare the possibilities range from the rational historically-based Great Depression scenarios or the more recent Katrina disaster scenario to the relatively benign throw-back to another era scenarios all the way to the post-apocalyptic Day After scenarios, the violent and anarchic Mad-Max worlds (or Waterworld if you want to toss in the global warming twist), or the urban, government gone mad Escape from New York.

So, just where do we look to prepare—to the world of grim reality or to the dystopic realities created by writers and artists and our own worst imaginings?

After some serious consideration, I'll be approaching the idea of preparation much like I approached the topic itself: by empowering myself and my family to live well and as independently as possible. Life itself can be lost in preparation for the unknown—an irony I don't wish experience.

So, in spirit of the notion that preparation is in the living and inspired by a thread over at the peakoil message boards, I submit my own 5 rules for Peak Oil prep, some of which jibe with the survivalist fanatics and some of which most definitely do not.

1) Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die: This goes back to the idea that life itself can be lost in preparation. I could spend all my time, energy and money becoming a survivalist, learning to make fire and eat grubs, and then get hit by a bus before gas prices top $5 a gallon here in the states. In the meantime, I'd have lost many wonderful opportunities for delicious food and joy in the moment—a fear-based transaction I'm unwilling to make. I don't believe in starving myself or my family—both metaphorically and literally—to prepare for the possibility of starvation in some uncertain future. Instead, I'll eat well, stay strong as long as luck and body hold out, and enjoy my time here and now, which brings me to my second rule.

2) Forge strong and meaningful relationships: for these are the stuff of life. By this rule I mean relationships with myself, my partner, my children and my community. If we fail to take the time to get to know ourselves or our family, those on whom we will count heartily in any of the potential scenarios, we will have no foundation of internal strength. Too much of modern life fractures families and personal relationships, forcing people to spend more time away from one another than together and championing adversarial relationships between parents and children, men and women, neighbor and neighbor.

3) Become more independent: Although seemingly contradictory to rule #2, the paradox is that as we become more independent, we become more able to enter into meaningful relationships with others. Only through our own autonomy can we act as fully actualized human beings because only through our own autonomy can we know ourselves honestly and fully. Also potentially paradoxical is that by "independent" I don't mean isolated—we come to know ourselves in part through our contact with others. But I do mean self-reliant: from government systems, from non-renewable resources, from unsustainable food chains, from mindless consumption, and from allowing others to think for us.

4) Acquire Mindfully: Of course, the flip side to avoiding mindless consumption is to acquire mindfully, and this is perhaps the most difficult rule for me personally. While we've been trying to move toward simplicity, I'm definitely not the most frugal gal around, though I try. We've become much more seasonal and local eaters, which has gone a long way toward this rule. My goal is to continue to find ways to trim expenses and to make our purchases with an eye towards long-term use value. We'll be privileging homestead infrastructure, manual tools, quality and longevity, self-reliance, sustainability, and skill building.

5) Cultivate Knowledge: Homesteading itself is excellent preparation, so in many ways, we'll just keep on keepin' on. Each day, each month, each year here at the farmstead, we learn new skills, adding to our knowledge base, and we become that much more independent. We're building our library, expanding our research, adding to our practical experience. In the two years we've been here, we've learned about butchering and preserving, husbandry and natural care, building and electrical, weather and earth, planning and flexibility, gardening and direct marketing. Not only will we be spending more time learning on the farm, but we'll also be spending more time doing things as a family like camping and rock climbing—activities we've always enjoyed and that now offer a whole different advantage, ensuring that the kids grow up with solid grounding in practical skills.

Will we be the most prepared folks around? No, but chances are that we'll be positioned better than many and have the solid emotional core to back up our skills and provisions regardless of what the future holds.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Apparently, I can take even the simplest meal and turn it into a production. This spaghetti and meatball dinner took two days to make—from harvesting the
San Marzano sauce tomatoes, to simmering and reducing them for 24 hours, to making the pasta and the meatballs, to getting it to the table. Boy was it delicious, though, and well worth the wait. Let's hear it for slow food! With any luck, I'll get one more tomato harvest from this unseasonably warm weather, and we'll be set for the winter with tomato paste.

Little did I know, the pasta machine I got for my birthday actually does have a motor—in the form of a little boy named Sam who had a total blast turning the crank for me. Thank goodness I didn't spend that small fortune for the KitchenAid pasta attachment! Sam and I made angel hair pasta yesterday, and it was amazingly delicate. I'm so psyched to be able to make our own pasta! Sam even ran out to collect eggs so that we would have room temperature eggs for making the dough. The kids took one look at the raviolisimo attachment and couldn't wait to try making stuffed raviolis. Looks like I'll be making some goat cheese in the next week or so to give that a try.

The hardest part of the process was kneading the dough, which took about 10 or 15 minutes. We used 2 cups of all-purpose flour, since I didn't have any semolina in the house, and 2 large eggs. That made enough pasta for one dinner for our family of five. The kids enjoyed it, though as with anything, it will take some getting used to as they shift from the store-bought pasta they've always known. I'm hoping to make and dry some basil fettucini today while the basil's still fresh—the sundried tomato pasta I can make any time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Gluttony Begins Here... or, Why I Farm

Yes, each year I celebrate my birthday with eggs benedict and mimosas in the morning. The potato dish varies. Some years it's country home fries, others it's latkes. Either way though, my birthday ushers in the kind of cool weather eating that revels in gastronomic glory and packs on the pounds. You see, Jim's birthday comes just a few short weeks after mine, so we're already talking about what he might like to eat for his birthday at my birthday dinner, which this year was comprised of lobster, New York strip steak, and the last delicious strawberries and raspberries of the season with whipped cream and melt-in-your-mouth crumbly shortcake.

Then, of course, the Thanksgiving harvest lingers just a month or so away, followed quickly by Christmas goose and roast potatoes in goose fat, with a New Year's Eve seafood fest on its heals. Then there's Valentine's Day lobster or filet mignon or, most likely, both because that's the kind of people we are, likely complete with two mouth-watering sauces—a roquefort and a burgundy—because I'm all about the sauce.

And so begins my decadent foray into feasting and merry making—with much good food and good wine and great company to wile away the dark winter hours.