Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gopi's Growing!

If you recall last August, I happened upon a blessed event just as it was occurring.  The date was August 29th, 2009; Our little calf's first birthday isn't even a month away!

Gopi's first steps, with a little help from her friends.

She was born at the far end of the field, on a rainy day. When peter and I arrived, Rebecca was with her, drying her off and calling Kathy. Momma Buttercup and the other two cows were in the field too.  As Buttercup tried to clean and nudge her baby the other two nosy sisters kept stepping in the way and knocking the poor tot back down again; long story short, we ended up carrying her back to the barn. Calves are heavy!  But oh, so adorable!

Buttercup's tears of joy.

Well, those baby days are long gone.  Here's our girl today, nearly as big as her sister, and twice as friendly.

Our little girl is growing up! Check out those pretty feet! 

Peter wanted me to include him for scale.  I think Gopi wants a ride!

Her name came from a raffle we held at the farm; being a non-profit, funds are always a challenge, so we held a "name our calf" contest.  The lucky winner chose the name "Gopi".  I have no idea of its origin or meaning, but I like it.

In another month or so, we should have a playmate or two for our little girl, who will then be a big sister/aunt. I hope I'm there when the new babies come! Our herd is growing! 

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Wild Berry Moon

I've had the pleasure of watching the moon for the last few nights.  I've been waking up in the wee hours of the morning for some reason; Wayne Dyer used those quiet moments to self-reflect.  I love those times too, but I've been looking at the moon.

I picked up a new book at the Rodale Garden Store two days ago.  It's entitled "Full Moon Feast", by Jessica Prentice, and is WONDERFUL.  After reading the foreword, I skipped ahead to the season we're experiencing in order to better savor the book; it's been such a pleasant and informative read that I've progressed to Autumn already; I expect I'll be through the year in a few more days.  One of the many things I've learned from Ms. Prentice (and there ARE many; though it's a pleasant read, the work is scholarly) is that indigenous peoples have traditionally named the moons according to the significant events of the time at which they occurred.  Hence my title today.
Elderberry Moon?

According to the 2010 Lunar Calendar, the full moon occurred on July 26, last Monday.  Since then, I've had the great pleasure of finding (at Fleur de Lys farm market) blackberries and elderberries.  At Bechtolt Orchards, blueberries.  Then, at the farm today, wineberries, black raspberries, and their own stand of elderberries.  Gold!  I've been intrigued by elderberries ever since attending the PASA conference last winter.
Elderberry Bush

I had the trees scoped out in the spring, and hoped I was correct; after purchasing a quart for comparison, and checking in with Steve Brill and a few other online resources, I confirmed my find and harvested a bag of the beauties today.  I brought them home to clean, and found that they're a bit difficult to work with; you need to remove all green berries and twigs, as they're considered slightly poisonous; the ripe, black elderberries, however, are nutritious miracles.  Used in the treatment of aids, cancer, emphysema, and other debilitating diseases, these tiny berries pack a powerful antioxidant punch.  And you can eat them in PIE!!!! In the spring, the berries are beautiful white clusters that Steve Brill says can be eaten as fritters, or made into tea; I'll try that next spring!

Vegetable Caviar

So, tomorrow will bring a day of experimentation for me...elderberry pie...and quarts of frozen elderberries for those winter colds.  Nature is bountiful. She's full of gifts to us.

Oh my! Don't eat the green ones!

By the that book! You'll understand the concept of "gifts" in a more globally meaningful way.

This Elderberry Galette was based upon the Recipe for Peach Crumb Galette provided by The Farmer's Daughter.  I simply substituted elderberries for  the peaches, and omitted the spices (but not the sugar; elderberries are tart).  It was delicious!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let's Pretend

I spent the morning being childish.  I highly recommend it.

As "guest teacher" for Flint Hill's Farm Camp, my task was to design a lesson that would be appropriate for a small group of campers, with ages ranging from about 8 to 15.  The lesson would ideally have to do with the farm, and my lessons (as I'm an art teacher) usually deal with some form of creativity.  Now, I'm a little physically challenged this week due to my hand and knee surgeries, so my planning itself needed to be creative.

What skills do children of all ages need?  What is natural to them, can be cultivated, would be summer-camp worthy fun, and still possible for me to present with my adapted abilities?  A challenge.  I love a challenge

I flashed back on an article I skimmed in the current issue of The Herb Companion; it was called "Fresh Clips: Teach Children How to Create a Fairy Garden".  Cool.

Do you remember spending hours as a young child, wrapped up in pretend? I did. As a child, I had a small box of glass animals that had an ongoing story; I created lives for them, relationships, issues.  I spend valuable hours of play creating homes and environments for them; I even invited my best little-girl friend, Beverly, to join me in my play.  We were great pretenders. It made great memories.  I decided to share that magic with my campers.

Campers Planning their Frog-Houses
Now, Alfie the pot-bellied pig has two pet frogs that live in his mud puddle.  When Alfie bathes, the frogs hop out.  They have a nice relationship.  I thought it made sense to create make-believe frog gardens rather than fairy gardens, to better accommodate the variety in ages and genders; as it turns out, I was right.

The Frog-Veterinarian's Cottage
We took three nature walks during the nearly three hours we built and pretended; that's when we collected our building materials. We looked at acorns and colorful leaves with fresh eyes.  The teenagers found it more difficult to suspend disbelief than the younger kids, but they still had fun.  And their frog houses were awesome.

The Resort.  We Paid with Acorns.
We had a bird-bath resort with guest houses, a tree house with a mail-carrying monorail, a bridal salon and studio, a frog-florist, a veterinary clinic, a marine-biology estate, a swinging Parisian frog pad, and a cool cottage.  Everything we used (except for the dollar-store plastic frogs and a few horseshoes) was natural.  We had a blast

Parisian Frog (with Beret) Watching his Large-Screen TV (Cell Phone)
What did we learn?  We learned that there are worlds in our imaginations.  We learned that we have infinite resources inside of us.  We learned that nature is bountiful.  We learned that an acorn isn't just an acorn if you see it through fresh eyes.

Hard at Work, Pretending
To celebrate the day, and to privately acknowledge my own little-girl memories, I sent each child home with two tiny glass animals from my little collection.  I'm pretty sure we made some memories today.  I hope theirs will be as sweet as mine.
Planning Our Next Move.
I think they might be...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Road Trip!

Since I'll be getting back to milking the goats on Tuesday, Peter and I took advantage of our relatively duty-free weekend, and combined business with pleasure on a little camping trip. Our mission: to scope out a mobile home that a kind soul was willing to donate to the farm; unfortunately (for the farm), said mobile home was 125 miles away. We booked a camp site, and hit the road.

The trip was a bit circuitous. Luckily, we didn't have a deadline, so it was easy to enjoy the scenery.  We found ourselves on a dirt road somewhere near Stevensville, PA, where these two were crossing the road:

Momma and son pygmy goats
If there's a goat in the road, I'll find her.  These dwarf goats were adorable...and very curious!

One of the "Alpine Lakes"
Our 2.5 hour trip took about 4 hours. Oh well.

We set up camp at The Alpine Meadow Lakes Campsite.  After about an hour or two of Rummy (the card game) and wine, a storm began to roll in...complete with tornado warnings.  Peter, the intrepid camper, braved the storm for awhile.
Storm? What storm?
We had the worst camping neighbors ever; the site filled up with what felt like 30 teenagers (but was actually about a dozen people ranging in age from about 30 down to late teens.  The campground was pretty lax in its enforcement of the drinking age...well, they actually ignored it.  These kids played drinking games at the top of their lungs until 2 AM.  I finally fell asleep with my ears stuffed full of paper towels and a pillow wrapped around my head.  The only thing that saved them from a midnight rant was the fact that they were friendly drunks.  Sheesh.

Worst. Neighbors. Ever.
7 AM:  Headaches commence in 3...2...1...

We woke up early.  I was tempted to blow the horn next to their tents, but I restrained myself. After a breakfast of camp-sandwiches and warm diet cola (it wasn't as bad as it was pretty filling!) we began to break camp for the true purpose of our trip: finding and photographing the mobile home for Kathy. As we finished packing up, the clouds rolled in; we were in for a wet day.  Thankfully, the rain broke the heat.  It had been excruciating prior to the *tornado* the night before.

A view of the campground

The countryside was beautiful; the site was beautiful.  We looked forward to a glorious day.

Twin fawns in the road while we were lost; you have to accept the gifts as they're given.
As usual, we got lost. Note to self: Verizon's "Navigator" AP doesn't work in the mountains. But it was early and cool out, so we took our time.  I don't like driving around in circles, though.  After about an hour of it, we stopped for a map and directions.  I felt just like these guys by then. Check out their expressions.  We parked right in front of them; they made me laugh.

WWF road rage faces
Back on the road, we once again zigged when we should have zagged, and ended up in New York State.  We U-turned, and passed this cool auto show on the way back...the way...we came...again.
Bedrock? OK...
We finally found the site, photographed the mobile home in a downpour, met the charming owner and two of his 10 foster kids, then headed out. It was a HUGE trailer. I'll leave the logistics to the pros; our work was done here.

Mission Completed.
Though it poured the entire way home, the scenery was awesome.  There's something so mysterious about mountains in the mist.  They make me wonder what's living in the forests, and how wild and beautiful this country still is in certain places. We stopped for a view of the Susquehanna River...what a sight!  We drove parallel to the river for about 1/4 of our trip home.  It's a gorgeous river: slow, wide, awesome. Kind of like me. ;)

The Susquehanna River
And then, home.  Home feels good after a road trip. I have to say: despite the tornado, rain, lousy neighbors, getting lost, and 8 hours in the car, it was fun. The key is travelling without deadlines or expectations.  The experience unfolds at its own rate, and we can simply witness the wonder. And then happily come home again.
Tuesday will bring me home to the goats; despite my gimpy knee and splinted hand, the girls need me.  Peter has been my faithful partner, and promised to help.  I missed the girls; it'll be good to be back.
Just ignore this picture.  My software won't let me move it up.  It's the near-tornado.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thumbs Up!

This is a great discovery.
No, not my thumb.  I discovered that a long time ago.  Vet Wrap.  Brilliant.

For anyone who has suffered the gross indignity of being confined by an increasingly disgusting cast or wrap, have I got a tip for you! While I was visiting the farm this morning, Miss Kim, the riding instructor took me under her wing.  I was complaining about my dirty, dingy wrapped splint, and a light went off in her eyes: Vet Wrap. OMG!

Not only is it water resistant, colorful (MANY colors to choose from) and inexpensive (mine was $2.25 a roll), it's CLEAN! Bonus!
What can I say? My farm friends rock.

Here are the labels, if you need to Google them.  Otherwise, find a farm supply store (equine section), and have a blast.  You can make your recuperation a fashion statement!

Thanks, Miss Kim!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Abundance/ Squash Me Now

In the interest of using some of the very abundant squash I had decorating my kitchen, I came up with this recipe. I used all local veggies, but cheated by using some inexpensive broken shrimp pieces (optional) and a can of coconut milk.  Coconuts are scarce in Pennsylvania, and the closest thing we have to shrimp are crayfish.  But I DID use up a bunch of veggies, and it was darn good!

Curried Squash and Shrimp Soup

1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1" of ginger, chopped
2 T. butter
1 cup sliced squash (I used summer squash and patty pan squash)
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
8 oz baby string beans, cut into small pieces
1 14 oz. can of coconut milk
1/2 pound shrimp pieces
1 block of firm tofu cut into 1/2" blocks
1 t. curry powder
1/2 t. turmeric
lime juice

Saute onion, garlic and ginger in butter until it just starts to brown. Add coconut milk and the rest of the vegetables, then simmer covered until the vegetables are soft. Add the shrimp (optional), curry and turmeric, then season to taste with the additional ingredients.  Add tofu last, and heat through.  Allow flavors to meld for 10 minutes, then adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve as a soup or over rice.

(Post- curry)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Toast(ed) and (Peach) Butter

Ok...I need to be a woman of few words tonight. Early this morning, I had my right (dominant) hand operated on to fix 2 trigger fingers and a nasty case of carpal tunnel. I just wore the darn thing out!

By the way, if you want to heal quickly from an injury, just injure something else.  Takes your mind off of it.

I'm a regular soap opera this summer.  Hopefully this is IT!  Anyhoo...I'm typing with two left handed fingers, and I'm a still a little stupid from the anesthesia.  Hopefully that will go away ("Doctor, will I be able to play the violin?"  "But you couldn't play the violin before!"...HA!).

Yesterday, I alluded to making peach butter from the scraps of my peach canning expo. Today, with my faithful assistant, we finished it up. Last night, the little crock pot was full, and bubbling away; there was no added water.  Before bed, I took the soft peach/skin glop and ran it through my Foley Food Mill:
This is the most important piece of equipment in my sauce-making-from-scratch tool kit. It separates the skins and seeds from the cooked pulp. What a time saver! Think "applesauce"; no peeling necessary!

When you turn the handle, the blade pushes the good stuff through the bottom holes and retains
the peels, etc.  Reverse the direction, and it lifts the peels for another pass at the pulp.
A low tech miracle,  I tell you!
You need one.

*Insert picture of cooked down peach butter here.  Wait, I don't have one. Here's where the "toasted" part of the title comes in. Sorry. One note: the "butter" will reduce to 1/2 or less of its original volume, and get brown.

All you need to do is let the butter cook until it's nice and thick, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Sometime during that process, add sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, powdered cloves and crystallized ginger if you like it.  You can tweak the seasonings any way you want to.
Sterilize your jars; you'll want them to be hot when you start.

Then, all you have to do is find some nice guy to fill your jars and put the lids on for you.  This guy was handy.  Wait...that's my other soul mate, Peter.


Process the filled jars for 5 minutes for pints and 10 minutes for quarts, and take them out to let them cool, and you'll end up with something like this:

Yum. 'Nuff said.
(Thank God for spell-check.)
For those of you that like actual recipes, here's the link...a GREAT site!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Think I Can...Can (Peach Canning Tutorial)

Despite my slower self these days, the garden is producing like crazy.  On our first visit back, we brought home an armload of goodies; even though I had invited my garden helpers to take what became ripe during our absence, "ripe" is a daily occurrence now. The farm markets are prolific and tempting as well; Peter loves peaches, so we bought a basket to preserve for the winter. Yesterday, in addition to the sweet peppers and corn we bought for our dinner (my peppers aren't red yet), I bought a bag of plum tomatoes for confit.

I love confit.  Can't get enough of it.

I'm dying to dry some corn for the winter.  I do it on a large, old fashioned corn drier.  I first encountered these back in my hippie days when I lived on the farm in Stonersville (no joke, that's what it was called...near Reading, PA. Google it.) The drier was meant to be used on an old fashioned cook stove, which we had then, but I don't have now.  When I found one at an antique store, I bought it anyway; and it works just fine on my gas range. More about that later; I'm saving my corn-drying for later in the season.

Today will be all about peaches!
* Your jars should be in your canner, getting a boiling bath!
Step 1: Wash those sweet peaches!

Step 2: Pull out the soft or bruised ones, cut them off the pit and throw them in your crock pot (on low). Tomorrow, this will magically become peach butter!

Step 3: Dunk your firm, ripe, luscious peaches into boiling water for a few minutes to loosen the skin  (approx. 3-5 minutes...experiment), then immediately transfer to ice water.

Step 4: Skin and slice the peaches, then put in a citric acid bath.  Plain old lemon juice with water works fine; just 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Or you can use a commercial fruit freshener.  I used citric acid because I have some for making fresh cheese. This will keep your fruit from discoloring.

Step 5: Make your syrup.  I chose a medium syrup, which was 1 part sugar to 2 parts water.  Here's a good chart (and site) for you if you want more details. When your syrup is just barely boiling, put in your peaches.
* Your jars should be removed from the canner at this point, so they stay hot and sterile.

Step 6: Place peaches in the sterile jars.  See the site for canning details (I'm typing with 2 fingers of my left hand.  I'll explain why in tomorrow's post.) Add syrup to fill jar, leaving 1/2" head space.

Step 7: Clean rims and place sterile lids and metal rings on jars (finger tight). Place jars back in canner.  See website for processing times.

Step 8: Remove and let cool.  Don't fool around with the jars until tomorrow; then check the tops.  If the little dimple in the middle is down, you have a seal. Like these:

Yum!  Open whenever you want a taste of in February!  Or even next week, if you're greedy!
Tomorrow: Peach butter!
(P.S. All your peach scraps and any leftovers except for pits can go in the crock pot. Leave it on low overnight; stir occasionally.  My crock was full.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I haven't posted for a day or two because , as my mother (as EVERYONE'S mother) once said: "If you can't say something nice..."; you remember the rest, I'm sure.

I had patellar debridement done on my left knee on Monday.  In plain English, the doctor placed a small instrument behind my kneecap, and smoothed out what he charmingly called "potholes", trimmed away some debris, then drilled some "micro fractures" into the remaining bone to stimulate stem cell production and hopefully promote healthy healing. 

Simply said: OUCH. Monday was a blur.  Yesterday was agony.  Today, I'm beginning to feel more hopeful, having discovered that I can actually put my weight on the offended limb without having it break off.
I am so blessed to have Peter with me; I have never had such help before.  I've endured a few physical setbacks in my long life, and I can honestly say that with the exception of my mother's help, I've never had such a loving caretaker. 

I cannot imagine having to do this if I was solely responsible for a working farm. In the past, my physical limitations only affected me and my immediate household, and were easier to handle.  Now, with the farm in my heart, it's something altogether different.

As it is, they have a capable young man (Cory) doing the milking at Flint Hill in my absence. Though the goats there aren't my own (except for Faith, who isn't lactating), I do feel a responsibility toward them.  How do farmers do it by themselves?   I'm beginning to better understand the need for large, extended families in agrarian societies, and how those groups of people build community. The goats and cows need to be milked, the chickens fed, the crops watered, whether or not one person can walk that day.  Those critters don't care if Gramma has arthritis.  They're hungry and their teats are full! Buck up! Ask Junior to do it, or do it yourself, gimpy knee or not!

Physical labor, especially labor closely associated with our own personal well-being (aka FOOD), promotes a communal dependency and compassion sorely lacking in the modern world of interpersonal isolation. We can telecommute, take a sick day, get a sub; no one will go hungry or risk mastitis. On a farm, my potential week of lameness might have meant losing the garden, especially during this heatwave, without help.  Without help, the horses would either be left out to fend for themselves, or stand in stalls. I hate to even think what would happen to the lactating animals; I would have had to get out there somehow, most likely to my own detriment. Farmers need family and friends. It's that community, that interdependence that is so lacking in our contemporary lifestyles.

I am not a social person by nature, but I understand the need for compassion and loyalty. Now that I'm on the receiving end, I'm so grateful for it.  How difficult it would be to deal with this alone!  Even something as simple as preparing a meal is impossible right now; thankfully, I was able to plan in advance, and have my loving partner to help me.

I'm humbled by this experience.  When I remarked to Peter how glad I was to have him at home, he said "It's all part of the plan."  What plan, you might ask?  I did.  He smiled rather sheepishly, and said "I needed to be off work to help you.  And here I am."

Life unfurls itself like a banner in the wind.  It's a beautiful thing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

In Preparation

What to do, what to do?

Since I've shared our job dilemma with you, and set the premise for an already topsy-turvy summer, let me add these two twists to my knickers.  Twist #1: knee surgery tomorrow, and twist #2: hand surgery in a week. And I'm not very good at just sitting around, so I imagine I'll be a hopping left-handed patient. Which may lead to more debilitation, since I'm already clumsy on 2 feet.  Maybe I'll just read a good book.  Any suggestions? I just finished "The Lacuna", by Barbara Kingsolver.  I loved it; it will be a tough act to follow.

I've been preparing for my impending cramped style by dragging things out of drawers to sort, and by filling the fridge; today, I started with a quick trip to the Emmaus Farmer's Market, in search of plum tomatoes, but found none.

What I did find were peaches, carrots, braising vegetables, patty-pan squash and a fresh baguette; my home garden yielded a few potatoes, a zucchini and some herbs, and I got a nice shipment of eggplant, scapes and organic cheeses from Pure Sprouts yesterday, complete with a free bouquet and a sample of wineberriesYay! I'm set.  However, my search for local plum tomatoes continues.  In the mean time, I caved and bought a bag of non-local plum tomatoes from the Elias Market.  I'm in the mood for confit.

Tomato Confit, Whole Carrot Tabouli and Corn

While I'm going through the steps that lead to the final (yummy) product, I believe I may can another batch of sauerkraut, which is smelling wonderful right now.  I highly recommend the filled water bag method of weighting the plate on top of the cabbage.  It really does prevent the growth of mold.

I also hear that I have a bumper crop of assorted veggies at the farm right now, so I should haul my currently ambulatory arse up there to clean things up.  More as the day progresses.

Update: From the farm, I gathered cucumbers, summer squash, a few beans and basil; Kathy gave me milk, cheese and butter. The goats gave me kisses. I'm blessed. I spent the evening making a nice vegetable stew, my tomato confit, an eggplant remoulade and the carrot tabouli.  After midnight, I'm fasting, so I'm making the most of this bounty while I can!  The sauerkraut will have to wait.

Here's the recipe for the "Whole carrot salad - tabouleh style".  I recommend it; it uses both the root and the greens, a highly nutritious and highly overlooked vegetable. You'll have to scroll down the site to find it, but the text above is excellent.