Monday, March 11, 2013

The Long Winter, Version 3.06.13

Last week we were doused with snow and the power companies were doused with power outages.  It was the first time in almost three years that we had an outage for more than a few minutes, which is pretty remarkable given the wind and rain storms that have swept our area.  During the time we were out of power, we kept commenting on how it would not have phased Byron's great-grandparents, who built this house and didn't have power until well into the 20th century.  And during their long lives, they never had indoor plumbing! 

I question how we, as a family, can become a little less dependent.  We are totally dependent, as a society, on power, whether that comes in the form of electricity, gas, or what have you.  Even if you have a generator, you need to fuel it with something.  And eventually, that something is going to run out. 

***End of public service announcement for the coming Apocalypse***

Anyway...though we don't have a generator (yet), we are blessed to have a woodstove.  And we were very blessed that it was cold enough outside to store our food in a cooler on the porch, being that a refrigerator, if left unopened, will keep food for about 12 hours.  A freezer will keep food for about 48 hours, but power was back on before we had to worry about losing everything.

And even though our neighbors graciously offered to let us come over and get water, Byron had a lot of fun melting snow for the animals:

And the animals had no idea anything was amiss!

Rachael, who is now weaned, and Flower, who has been ingloriously renamed "The Rectangle" due to her girly figure, are good to go as long as there's hay around.

We're still using the hen house for hay storage, but will soon put the chickens out on pasture.

The Rectangle in all her snowy glory.
And as a side note, I have an update on my wild-yeast caught sourdough bread: success!  However, I'm back to using the starter my friend gave me because it has a lot more flavor.  The microbes I caught were a bit on the bland side.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Counter Science & Sourdough

Many of you know that for several years I've been milling my own grain in my Nutrimill and baking my own bread.  While this has had great health benefits for our family and kept us from eating copious amounts of refined (read: nutrient-void) flour, a while back I began stressing about phytic acid.  You can read all about my little dilemma here

A friend of mine recently let me borrow Jessie Hawkins' Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread.  The book is choc full of information on how ancient cultures baked, the advent of baker's yeast during the industrial revolution, and yes, phytic acid.  Hawkins' well-researched claim is that ancient cultures baked using starters containing microbes caught from the air, or in layman's terms, sourdough.  No baker's yeast involved, and the loooong rising times break down the detrimental effects of my old friend, phytic acid. 

Oh, and it tastes amazing.  Even to Byron, who hates sourdough.

But wait!  Before you go away, don't get turned off by loooong rising times.  Because guess what?  There is very little kneading and almost no dough babysitting involved!  Most of her recipes consist of mixing the ingredients, shoving the bowl into a corner overnight, putting the dough in pans in the morning, shoving the pans back into the corner, and baking the bread around dinner time.  That's pretty much it, I promise.

It sounds too good to be true, but it is.  And it is my answer to baking while working outside the home full-time.

You didn't honestly think I was going to start patronizing Monsanto, did you??

Anyway, buy the book.  And then procure some starter.  Another friend graciously gave me some starter she had bought online.  Hawkins also gives EASY directions on catching your own microbes (i.e., making your own starter), so I thought I'd give that a go:

You want to leave it as open as possible, but since we have ladybugs zooming around the house and waking my terrified kids up at night, I covered my experiment with cheese cloth.

And it is...bubbling!!  After 48 hours!  This is a good sign.
Hawkins writes about how starters caught in different regions of the world will give you different results.  For instance, San Francisco has some rockin' microbes, because they're famous for their sourdough.  This starter I'm trying smells differently than the one my friend gave me, probably because it's catching southern microbes.

And the South is famous for cornbread, not sourdough.  But it costs me pennies to try...

So why not?

Update on my Nutrimill: I had to have the motor replaced over Christmas.  Convenient, I know.  But since all I had to pay was shipping, I was pleased with their customer service.  I did read more recently, however, that the Wondermill kicked the Nutrimill's butt in a test that ran the mills until the motors burned out.  Granted, the article wasn't scientific, peer-reviewed, etc., etc., but a bit of food for thought, nonetheless, if you are shopping for a grain mill.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From Hens to Hay: Why I Love Multi-Purpose Structures

Remember the hen house we built last summer?  You know, the one I neglected to post final photos of?  Well, here it is, six months later, and filled with...

Hay. (Yes, we cleaned it out!)

The side pictured above is for human access.  In the fall we put plastic over the chicken wire to keep the hens cozy during the night.  But in the summer, the chicken wire at each end helps with ventilation.

Other side, with small door for chicken access.

Interior view.  I think we can fit eleven bales of hay in the center aisle.  Notice the roosts and egg boxes.  There are roost bars on the other side of the aisle, as well.

We've pulled it up right next to the garden, where the chickens are spending the winter.  They share a divided hoop house with the bovines, one of whom eats copious amounts of hay (I'm talking to you, Flower).
Storing the hay in the hen house for the winter accomplishes two things.  First, since it is mobile, we can hook it up to the tractor, drag it over to the barn, load it up, and drag it back to the garden, saving us time and work.  Secondly, it saves us from building a structure closer to the winter quarters in order to store hay.  And this is why I love multi-purpose structures.

Any other ideas out there for multi-purpose farm structures?  One of our next projects will be to build a larger cow shelter on skids.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who Needs Video Games?

"When I was  kid, all I needed to entertain myself was a stick and a string!" 

Maybe my kids really will use that line on their grandkids.  Check out their most recent creation, made in the dead of winter:



Sticks and strings.  Proud of my kids' creativity.  Made by Akea, checked for safety by Byron.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Arrivals

No, I didn't have a baby.  In fact, I don't have a legitimately valid excuse for being such a slacker for the past two months, except to say that we've undergone some major changes as a family.  For instance, my kids are both in public school now and I'm looking into going back to teaching next year.  In the meantime, I'm eating bonbons and not writing blog posts.

Per the title, I do want to share with you our two new arrivals.  Everyone, meet Flower and Rachael.  Flower and Rachael, meet everyone:

Rachael is the baby, and Flower is the mom.  Both are Black Angus.  Both were named by my kids.

Rachael has to be bottle fed for a while longer, so Byron is making friends.  Flower was still nursing another calf when she was born, and the previous owner never separated them.

Flower is still a bit skittish sometimes, but fortunately, the previous owner is very hands-on with his cows, so she doesn't totally hate us.  She also may be pregnant, so that could explain a lot...

Our steers have since gone to the butcher, which was a very interesting learning experience.  They weighed much, much less than we had anticipated and we ended up losing money on the venture.  So our [my] new rule is no more Holsteins.  Though we hear that the meat is great, they don't gain weight efficiently.  To their credit, however, we got an education by raising them.

I'm glad I'm back.  I miss writing as a creative outlet and I miss your insights.  And the spammers have begun their relentless, vulturous descent.  Let's hope as I dust off my blog, they go to the wind as well.