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Monday, November 21, 2011

'Must Have' Technology, Handmade, Recycled...

For the past 20 weeks I have been on bed rest growing the next generation of northern Vermont farmer, I hope!  Since I do not sit still well, I have spent much of my time crafting, knitting, crocheting, and planning next year’s farming projects including pigs, expanding the greenhouse, vegetable garden, etc.  Before I turned the computer on this afternoon I was working on a sweater which I hope will be a well received holiday gift.  Last week I finished one for my sister-in-law and I have also been working on a couple of items which will keep my son cozy and warm this winter.
As I lie here knitting with the television on in the background, I am amazed by the onslaught of marketing messages for ‘Black Friday’ deals and Thanksgiving sales.  Perhaps I have always been working or I hardly ever have the television on so I have never noticed the insanity with which the advertisements come flying out at you.  Knitting the next row, I laughed out loud at the woman in the hideous red jogging suit training for the ‘Black Friday’ madness.  The morning news show I was watching while I ate my breakfast was discussing the ‘must have’ technology items for this holiday season.  There was a time when I couldn’t leave the house without my car keys, my wallet and my cell phone.  Today, I don’t own a functioning cell phone.
The other day we received a package via traditional, non-express, non-overnight delivery from the U.S. Postal Service.  Hard to believe, I know!  Inside that package was something for the baby; however, it didn’t come from any store.  Inside was one of the most useful of handmade gifts – bibs.  These were no ordinary bibs; however, they were made from boring, inexpensive, white washcloths.  One corner was removed and a tie was sewn on using multi-colored bias tape.  The bib protects from spills, wet the washcloth and clean up baby boy and his high chair, then throw the whole thing into the laundry.  The usefulness of this simple gift which took some time and a little sewing ability was worth far more that that ‘must-have’ technology item from the store with the whacko woman who has been training for over a month now.  Many of the clothes that we have received for the baby have been recycled either directly from family or at a tag sale.  One of my favorite gifts is a plain, off-white blanket embellished with baby patches and appliqu├ęs, not available at 12:01 a.m. Friday morning in any chain store.
This year's holiday gifts are all either handmade or recycled; knitted sweaters, homemade jams, jellies and pickles, and if the baby is late - homemade cookies are an annal favorite.  Yarn for a crocheted scarf and a cookie jar, which are wrapped and waiting for the holidays, came from box lots at local auctions this summer.  Maybe after 'Black Friday' that woman spilling frosting all over the floor will realize that holidays are for being thankful and spending time with family and friends.  Giving gifts is not saved only for holidays; being thankful for all that we are blessed with and sharing it with others should happen each and everyday!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Irreplaceable baking tool

My paternal grandmother was not a great cook; she had several basic meals that she prepared which I thought were delicious, and since have learned differently.  While they were not going to win any awards for flavor or presentation, they were good, hearty, stick to your ribs meals which would keep you going throughout the day’s hard work until time for the next meal.  The one thing that she did make which I could never get enough of, were her incredible dinner rolls.
As soon as I was tall enough to reach the counter of the antique baking cabinet (which I rushed into by using an old milking stool), I was allowed to sink my hands into the warm, silky soft, floured dough and help shape the rolls for their last rise on special occasions such as a holiday meal or my grandfather’s birthday dinner.  She used two pieces of baking equipment which I consider irreplaceable in the baking process, a stoneware bowl and an old fashioned baking cabinet.
When I moved back to the family farm, the baking cabinet remained in the kitchen.  I don’t know that I ever remember my grandmother keeping flour and sugar in the sifters, but I remember rolling out lots of dough on the enamelware surface.  Today, the flour sifter is full and used almost daily for bread, pie crusts, cakes, gravies, or any other recipe which requires the white fluffy powder.  The sugar sifter remains unused as I think it stays fresher when stored in a sealable container.  Summers keep the enamelware counter full of freshly baked pies or breads bound for farmers market.  Dough for the loaves of bread rolled onto that counter came from one of the several stoneware bowls which I have acquired over the years at various yard sales and antique stores.
I have scoured antinque stores, online auctions, yard sales, and some very obscure little stores in the middle of rurality looking for my own baking cabinet only to discover that several hundred pie sales will be required before I am able to make that acquisition.  In the meantime, I will cherish the memories of four-year-old Jen, perched on a wobbly milking stool, shaping dinner rolls with my grandmother each time I roll out another pie crust or knead another loaf of bread. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Piggles

The farm started looking more like an actual farm becoming home to its first livestock in more than 40 years this fall.  Bacon and Pork Chop arrived on the farm from a dog crate in the back of a minivan.  So began the journey into swine.
It started with a facebook posting from a friend who said he would have piglets soon.  Salvaged fence posts, chicken wire, roofing paper, pallets, an old tarp, and some insulating plastic were collected and assembled into a pig pen and shelter in a fairly dry spot across the driveway.  A washtub for a feed bucket and the bottom of a chicken feeder for a water dish, we were ready for our swine right after the last powwow.
The pen worked great for the first few weeks until the piglets got bigger, more curious and apparently that much hungrier.  Under the side of the fence and through the tar paper, they came across the driveway, behind the garage, and took up residence underneath the back porch of the house.  Two hours later with a little elbow grease, some persistence, some more cunning and then a lot of squealing the two pigs were securely back in their pen.
Then there was the rain and a lot of it.  Our fairly dry spot was filling up with water and each day was a losing battle to reinforce the sides of the pen against the rooting swine.  Not that I blame them, I wouldn’t want to sleep with my head in a pile of wet muddy hay either.  We tried several quick fixes and none of them drained the water from inside the pen; it was looking like this was going to be some expensive pork if we had to start over or purchase a shed to house them for the remainder of fall.  Finally, a relative break in the weather combined with a visit from my stepdaughter.  The three of us together with the tractor, backhoe, some PVC pipe, shovels and two loads of muddy laundry; the drainage problem in the pen was solved with no escapees.

Now approaching 125 lbs each, the piggles are getting bored in their pen and are starting to look for a way out again.  Bacon and Pork Chop are freezer bound around the first of the year at about 160 lbs each.  While it is the perfect size for starting pigs, our salvaged materials pig pen will not be sufficient to house two full size sows or a sow and boar.  We have already started salvaging additional materials to build a larger enclosure, with better fencing, for the spring pigs.  We learn something new everyday on this farm, in the meantime we wait patiently for cooler weather and a freezer full of our own farm raised pork.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Slow-Cooker Success

I am a huge fan of the slow-cooker – dump in a pile of ingredients the night before, remove it from the refrigerator in the morning, set the cooker on low for 10 hours and when you get home from work, not only does the house smell delightful, but you have a delicious, wonderful and often nutritious meal waiting. 

This was not always the case.  For years I thought that the only thing that could come out of a slow-cooker was a grayish-looking, meat-like substance which once resembled chicken or beef – Forgive me, Mom.  She cannot be blamed for the shortcomings of her early slow-cooker meals.  The slow-cooker, or Crock-Pot® as many of us know it, was introduced to America in the early 1970’s.  It was a gift from the heavens to those working and single mothers who came home tired from working all day only then to have to cook a meal for their eagerly awaiting children.  When it was introduced, however, I don’t think sufficient re-education was provided.  Slow cookers retain much of the moisture which is present in the item being cooked; it is rarely necessary to add additional water or broth.  This was contrary to how many generations had been taught to cook.

Much of my cooking instruction came from my mother, including how to use my Crock-Pot®.  I don’t remember exactly when I was taught or read that additional liquid didn’t have to be added to my culinary creation in order for it not to burn; but today, unless I am making beans, soup or chili, I rarely add any additional liquid.  The meat simmers in its own juices rendering even the toughest cut of chuck into a delectable slow roasted delight.

I need to thank Jenna over at Cold Antler Farm for reminding me that I can use my Crock-Pot® to slow cook my tough old laying hens.  For several years I have been boiling them in order to de-rubberize the meat so that it could be used in a casserole or chicken and biscuits.  Recently Jenna posted about slow roasting her old hens, de-boning the meat and using it in a pot-pie.  The light bulb went on and I thought to myself, especially since it is fall and we are culling our non-layers to make room in the coop for winter, duh – I could be doing that too.

Two days later, out came the slow-cooker and in went one of the old frozen hens marked for stewing.  That afternoon the de-boned meat went into a chicken, cheddar and rice casserole.  Dinner was met with rave reviews and – “Wow, you can actually chew the chicken this time!”

Thanks again, Jenna!