Thursday, November 27, 2014

Firsts and Finishes--Thanksgiving Comes First

For the last four years I have participated in a group of posts themed Thanksgiving Comes First started by Jim Sullivan (Suldog).

As the sun begins to set on 2014 we tuck into the holiday season.  A time peppered with family, friends, community and giving, but mostly one of thanks.  As with many sunsets, I begin to review.  We have had a tremendous year full of firsts and finishes.  None of it would have felt quite so special without our family around us.  We are truly very fortunate, we have not only our tight little nuclear family and our larger family who may be far away yet always close at hand, but we also have a wonderful community of friends around us.

In today's digital world we are all susceptible to being wrapped up in the increasing speed.  Many of us recall in sheer amazement and would never have the patience today for a dial-up connection.  Now we measure acceptable speeds in terms like fractional T1 lines and Mbps.  As a result not only do we want demand our information at lightning speed, but we seem to rush through life in the same way.   We have created a digital daze in how we approach life, looking for bigger, better, faster, cheaper.  We need to recondition ourselves to appreciate the days and moments as they come, or we may just miss out on what is really important.

I am a big kid, the holidays, all of them, are magical.  I am not in any way against getting caught up in the decorating, gift giving, and overall holiday cheer.  However, if we are always looking ahead, moving at lightening speeds, the days will slip past, many unappreciated.  So today on this day of Thanksgiving, I challenge all of you to an analog day, turning back the clock ever so slightly, for those of us who remember, and teach our kids that the rewards for living each day and taking time for family outweigh the vigor of the digital and consumer age in which we now live.

Please take a look at Jim's Op-ed for this year which appeared in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

Should you be interested, take a look at my post from last year The Bones That Hold Us Together the three posts prior to it are also linked there.

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

That Time of Year

I have been a bit absent of late.  I have snippets of posts running through my head but they just have not come together for me.  Possibly it is because like many areas of the country we have been in an unseasonable deep freeze, about six weeks early!  In fact we broke a record for coldest high on Monday that was last set in 1873.  Even though we had to scramble get some outdoor and animal tasks completed with the onset of this insane weather, last weekend was relaxing and a perfect way to begin my 43rd year.  I awoke to a pair of owls hooting gently to one another across the snow, and was treated to a lilac cast to the snow at sunset.

B's Charcuterie is coming along wonderfully.  As a treat, my breakfast included duck breast bacon.  The duck cures fairly quickly and is completely done.  The pancetta takes longer to cure, but we are at the point where we can taste it along the way now.  We had our first little taste yesterday morning and it is absolutely fantastic!  This is our second year doing a pancetta.  B made some adjustments in his recipe this year and all I can say is wow!

In fact, as a result of yesterdays tasting we have ordered half of a pig for the freezer that will arrive the second week in December.  Aside from the typical cuts of meat to just have a the ready, we will have plenty to further our charcuterie adventures.

We are racing around the rest of this week, dotting i's and crossing t's both here on the homestead and at work in order to head out to Kansas for Thanksgiving week.  This time of year things do seem to come fast and furious what with holiday parties, cookie exchanges, visiting guests, band concerts and holiday travel, to name a few.  I feel like I am at the top of a hill, ready to snowball into the new year.  Anybody else ready for the snowball of cheer ahead? :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ducks Crossing Roads & Cooking With Hay

Why did the ducks cross the road?  I have no bloody idea!  That was how we began our Sunday.  A kind lady driving up our drive early in the morning to let us know that she just shooed some ducks of the highway.  Sheesh.....these three have gotten curious since the bushes in the tree-row have shed their leaves!  Thus began our final push to winter preparations.  The ducks have now taken up residence in the barn with the egg layers, and no one seems the worse for wear.

The garlic is tucked in under layers of straw to overwinter as it prepares to push shoots up when the ground warms again.  The final leaf collection is complete and we cut town a veritable forest of golden asparagus fronds.  Finally, we harvested and preserved better than 75 leeks.  Whew!

After catching Tom Kerridge's cooking show last weekend we tried his Chicken Baked in Hay and Cider.  Cooking with hay filled the air with an earthy aroma, that smelled amazing.  The flavor was light, but penetrated the meat thoroughly and almost tasted like it had been steamed in tea leaves.  Though somewhat unconventional, we will surly do it again.  I think I may just research other unique cooking methods from days gone by.  Ducks crossing roads and cooking with hay....just a typical Fall weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2014


For some people creating something brings a great sense of peace and fulfillment.  Slowly expanding the farm over time is that way for us, especially when B can create something in its entirety that we have grown or raised on our own.

Last year was our first foray into charcuterie.  Charcuterie, originally a form of meat preservation
prior to refrigeration, is the process of preserving meats (primarily pork) to develop rich flavors. We got ourselves a pork belly and made our first pancetta.  We loved it and B has spent endless hours researching and learning how to expand this into more and more.

Doing things the natural way, letting the curing and fermenting processes evolve as they were meant to has become a focus for us.  Last week, using a slightly different recipe, we began another pancetta using a Berkshire Pork belly (This pork is the bomb, and the breed that we are looking to raise).  

As each year we expand, this year we are also curing three duck breast pancettas, homestead raised. The meat was absolutely beautiful after its initial sodium curing and after seasoning and rolling in cheese cloth it is now hanging in a temperature controlled area, soon to be incorporated into our holiday meals and beyond.

I would not be surprised if our natural food preservation techniques become an important expansion of our little smallholding as time goes on.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Season Ending Frost

After falling back last night we awoke to our first really hard frost.  Not just the light dusting of grey over the landscape that we have seen to date.  This was the thick snow like covering that comes with a damp twenty degree morning.

The warm weather crops are long since gone, leaving us with cold tolerant flower sprouts, leeks, and kale.  Yet even those plants were heavy with the fatigue of this frost.

This will surly test the hardiness of the four different varieties of sage that we planted.  Two of which are supposed to be perennial in our environment, we. shall. see.

Our full row of lavender has turned into a beautiful hedge such as you might find in an English garden.  It was truly magical to see it encased in ice crystals this morning, just as the sun was rising to melt this early winter landscape.  Probably most striking were the trees.  I have spent hours in each of the two last Fall seasons on windy days trying to capture a leaf in flight.  It has been a very frustrating experience.  This morning I learned that after a really hard frost, those few leaves that remain simply give up their fight and rain off of the handful of trees that have held tight to them.  They do not land soundlessly as you might expect, they land on the frozen ground with a faint tap, a beautiful wake-up for all of the senses this morning.


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