Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Making Bread!

If you read this blog regularly you know that I'm a big fan of 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' and 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day', both by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  I first started baking bread with these books, attracted to them because it was 'five minutes a day', no kneading required, healthy and artisan.  It really is quite a simple process for most of their breads:  you mix your ingredients in the container you will store the dough in, let it rise, refrigerate and then, on baking day, grab a chunk and let it rise before putting it in the oven.  The recipes are largely for hand-formed artisan style round loaves and have become our daily bread.  However, they don't make a great sandwich!  Farmer Man has had a hankering for a proper sandwich!

Now, the artisan breads can be baked in a loaf pan for the shape but it just wasn't what Farmer Man was craving.  I had seen a recipe on one of my favorite blogs FarmGirlFare for an Easy Farmhouse White loaf.  'Easy' sounds attractive and I've always had such good luck with the recipes I've tried from this blog that I though I'd give it a go!  The thing about making bread is that you've got to be around for three or four (or more!) hours and you've got to be mindful (or have a loud timer).  The thing for the newbie bread maker is the learning curve with terms and descriptions.  Just what does it mean that the dough 'springs back' when you poke it?  But it's like that with so many things: you've just got to do it one time and it all becomes much clearer!

So, first rising went on quite a while.  The recipe said sixty to seventy five minutes and two hours later I'm thinking 'maybe' it's doubled.  I carry on with the kneading and the rest of the directions and get it in the pans.  Sixty to seventy five minutes later is hasn't come any where near filling the pans like the picture on the blog!  Two hours later, the loaf pans still aren't anywhere near full!  It's getting close to bedtime so I decide to go ahead and bake.  The bread comes out and is very tasty but short and dense, quite dense. And I had what was decribed as 'exploding' sides, an indication of too much energy left in the yeast.  Just so happens the next day I was heading to the winter indoor Farmers Market downtown to trade in my empty honey bucket for a full one with Mann Apiaries.  Georgine Mann makes a ton of bread all season long for the markets so I asked her about my lack of rising.  In discussion, we decided that it is probably because our house is quite cool this time of year.  She recommended that the next time I try, use quite warm water with the yeast and preheat the oven for one minute and then use the oven for the rising.  I'll keep you posted and, and by the way, the bread is delicious!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Have You Got A Date With Joel Salatin?

Is Joel Salatin in your datebook?  Don't forget he's going to be in Brandon on December 13th!  He will be here as one of the keynote speakers for the Manitoba Conservation Districts Association annual conference.  Get all the information you need here!

If you have any interest in local food, sustainable food systems, freedom of choice in your food, well, you'll want to hear Mr. Salatin.  He's an interesting and passionate speaker - should be good!  Hope to see you there!  If you're not familiar with him, check out Polyface Farms, his family farm in Virginia.  Polyface and Joel Salatin are on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting to Our Least Favorite Chore

Being on a small farm, you might think our least favorite chore would be cleaning out the goat pen.  Or, perhaps, cleaning out the chicken coop.  It might be hauling half finished compost, or turning the compost pile that is in use.  Perhaps it could be weeding or watering on hot, sultry summer days.  But no, our least favorite chore and the one we procrastinate at is:  grooming our dogs.  Of course, the longer we leave it, the more of a chore it becomes and trimming The Three Bears involves not only fur but sticks, burrs and other unidentifiable stuff!

In a good year we might just ship them off to a groomer and put up with the jokes and incredulous looks.  But, this hasn't been one of those years so we're doing it ourselves.  Thank heavens, in a good year, we invested in a really good set of clippers!  Still, with three little doggies and one set of clippers, this is going to take a few days.  The clippers can only go for so long before they overheat.  Then there's the wiggling, teeth-baring and, finally, snarling that predicts an end to the current session.  The Bears are waaaaaay over due and there are mats to take out carefully, dew claws to watch for and personal aversions each dog has to having certain body parts shaved.

There is an awkward period...
We really should have done this in September but we were still rather busy with Farmers Markets and CSA.  October was Saturday Farmers Markets, trying to finish the potato harvest and curing and storing winter squash and such.  November has been clean-up, close up and chores like winterizing the chicken coop and goat barn.  So, an end of November clipping involves finding the dogs' little sweaters and getting them washed up 'cause there will be some shivering going on!  Blaze the Border Collie will need some attention, too.  He hasn't had a good brushing for a few months which means that a shopping bag of fur will come off of him!  Probably needless to say, the vacuum will be getting almost as much use as the clippers in the next few days.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Reprieve in the Weather

A couple of the barn cats grab some sun!

The Chickens grabbing some rays and a dust bath!

The Goatlings get out and about.
We've had a nasty cold snap for November: the kind of temperatures we'd accept in January just seem so wrong right now.  All the animals, and us, have been huddled in our respect homes for a few days but yesterday turned into a beautiful day.  Winnipeg set a record high and Brandon
I thought the sunflower heads were for the birds but...
came close!  Time to get out and enjoy, and get some of those last chores crossed of the 'to do' list.  Farmer Man still has firewood to collect and is still gathering wood for fence posts from our shelter belt.  A good time to let the goats do a little free-ranging while he could keep an eye on them!  Everyone soaked up a few rays and enjoyed it immensely.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dinner Rustica!

We could say that we were practicing for The Dark Days Challenge, coming up.  We could say it was because we were organizing and cleaning the freezers.  Nonetheless, we ended up having a largely local meal, from disparate parts.  I made tomato sauce for the first time this summer.  I used a marinara recipe from Sherri Brooks Vinton's excellent 'Put 'em Up!'.  It's a multi-purpose sauce that, with tweaking, can become almost anything: pizza sauce, pasta sauce, bruschetta base.  I had some cooked, cubed butternut left from making this delicious pilaf with quinoa, cranberries and nuts for Meatless Monday.  In tidying the freezers, we found one small package of a gift from our neighbors Mike and Naomi of homemade deer/pork sausage.  There is a good chance the deer was harvested from our farm, and the pig was raised by a friend of Mike's.  The sausage was delightful with a smokey flavor and coarse texture.  After cooking the sausage, everything went into a skillet to warm.  We boiled some spaghetti, store bought admittedly.  We'll get back to making pasta from scratch, now that things are almost closed up on the farm.  We accompanied the meal with home made bread from the much-used 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day' by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  The pasta was topped with some grated parmesan, also store bought.  This time next year we hope to be having homemade goat's milk parmesan.  Dinner was followed by a cup of tea from homegrown spearmint, hung to dry in the back room! Now, that's not bad for eating local without really trying!  Are you still eating local food?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Combining Two Chicken Flocks

Rocky the Rooster and The Hens have lived in their insulated coop since it was built.  The Chicks started out in Farmer Man's shop in their incubator, then moved into the greenhouse when they got bigger and then into the new shed/coop when it arrived.  We have always intended to combine the two flocks in the insulated coop for the winter.  Combining two flocks can be interesting: roosters and hens alike can fight, pull feathers and cause general mayhem while establishing their 'pecking order'.  We were particularly concerned because our ten Ameraucana chicks had turned into six feisty roosters and four hens.  We really like Rocky: he's a gentleman and a great protector of his little flock; we'd hate to have anything happen to him.  We're not quite so fond of some of the Ameraucana roosters; they are aggressive, randy and don't really look out for the hens.  We had put the Ameraucana roosters on our local web site eBrandon as breeding stock but no takers.

We did have the knowledge that the two flocks had been free ranging together for the last two months with few problems.   We were still debating the best way to go about the whole thing when Mother Nature decided for us, as is often the way on the small farm.  A forecast of 10 - 15 centimetres of snow (3 - 6 inches) with forecast lows of -22 C (about -10 F), freaky cold for November.  There was no decision to be made anymore: The Chicks had to go into the insulated house or perhaps freeze to death!  Farmer Man got busy installing new, more extensive roosts from willow scavenged from our shelter.  The willow is a great example of reusing, recycling because he had originally cut the heavy branches for feeding the goats, choosing ones that were big enough but not too big for roosts!  The goats eat the leaves and the bark, so the branches were nice and smooth for chicken roosts.

We let The Chicks go to bed as usual in their shed that evening and, with snow falling, we carried the sleepy Chicks into the insulated coop where Rocky and The Hens were already cozying up for the evening.  So far, no big problems.  We can certainly see a few hens with some missing feathers, but no big fights have ensued.  The biggest problem for us is that not all The Chicks 'get' their new home yet and return to the shed each evening.  In cold, windy, snowy conditions Farmer Man and I have had to find them and return them to the insulated coop each night.  Three or four that have been laying their eggs in the barn are also insisting on maintaining that habit, too.  We've had to step up our egg gathering so that we find the barn eggs before they freeze!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Child and Chick Reunion

Pal Deb brings her grandchild out to the farm sometimes.  We love touring people around Aagaard Farms; young children are particularly fun.  Ayla is almost three years old; she was out for a visit in early June, when the chicks were very small and fragile.  We had to be careful because she was young enough to be too rough, without meaning any harm.  How thing can change in five months!  Not only is Ayla bigger and talking a mile-a-minute, but the chicks have grown an incredible amount!  The little girl showed a healthy respect for the chickens this time, and was even a little intimidated by the bounding goats!  Ayla loved her time out here: first it's the dogs, who greeted her as she was being helped from Grandma Deb's car, then she spied the chickens because some of the Black Sex Links were free-ranging in front of the house.  We took her around to the barn and got some scratch grain; Ayla was giggling as all the chickens came running for their treat!  Feeding and petting the goats, petting the barn cats, back to the chickens.  She was crowing with delight and saying many things, although we're not sure about all the words we know 'shiggen' was called every time a rooster crowed.  After all the outdoor excitement, we all came inside for juice and a snack where Ayla met and made great friends with Doodles the kitten!  Next time, we promised, we'd help her ride a goat!  Haven't talked to the Goatlings about that yet...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Dark Days Are Here Again - Yeah!

It may sound like a bad thing: The Dark Days.  And it's true: winter is closing in, we've already got a persistent dusting of snow on the ground and it's snowing a bit right now as I type.  Daytime highs are just barely getting above freezing and night time temperatures are four or five degrees (at least) below freezing.  It's dark 'til late in the morning and it gets dark again before we've had our evening meal.  But what I'm talking about here is The Dark Days Challenge!  Organized for a number of years now by the great blog The Urban Hennery, The Dark Days Challenge is about eating local through the winter.  It's one thing eating local when your garden is growing and the Farmers Market are in full swing, but what about in the dead of winter?  That's why it's a challenge: can you find local food all winter long?

The Dark Days Challenge is a great community of bloggers from all over, with varying climates offering varying access to fresh, local food.  The challenge encourages us all to cook one SOLE meal a week and write about it.  SOLE stands for sustainable, organic, local or ethical food so if you can't find it local at least make it organic or Fair Trade or sustainably grown.  The blog posts will present you with a dizzying array of awesome recipes and some great stories of finding ingredients or amending recipes.  All the information you need to get involved is here; anybody can join in the fun!  If you don't blog, you can still join in by posting about your meal in the comments section here on The Vine!  Recaps of all the blogs are posted for perusal and I'll keep you updated with links!  Hope you'll join in!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The First Pastel Egg!

We've waited a while for the Chicks to start laying eggs.  In the last few weeks we've gone from three eggs a day from the old Hens to about fourteen a day!  When the Chicks really get going, we should get about thirty eggs a day.  But, what I've been waiting for is a pastel Ameraucana egg!  It's why I got the breed, aside from the fact that they are beautiful hardy birds, because they lay gorgeous blue/green eggs!  The  eggs are ultimately no different in taste or nutrition to any other egg, and you don't get the shell served on your plate with your eggs, but still I had a yen for some pretty eggs.

We've been getting brown eggs from the Sex Links, in a small way,  for about two weeks. Finally, yesterday morning, an Ameraucana Hen laid an egg!  Unfortunately, she chose to lay it by the front door, on the outdoor bed for Blaze the Border Collie.  Blaze was the first to spy it and promptly picked it up, brought it to Farmer Man's feet and dropped it!  Splat! went my first beautiful egg.  We figure Blaze thought it was a wee ball and wanted Farmer Man to throw it for him.  There on the pavement was a gorgeous, deep yellow yolk and bits of a truly lovely egg: somewhere between sky blue and mint green.  The picture doesn't really do it justice - it is really a lovely shade!  Oh well, I don't get to eat my first pastel egg but there will be more to come! 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


In the straw stack!

This post could also be entitled 'The Problem With Free Ranging Laying Hens'!  The Black Sex Link chicks have started to lay eggs.  Gorgeous, tiny brown eggs in various shades, some with speckles.  The problem is they are completely ignoring the nests in their coop.  The first egg found was in a little depression in the bedding in their coop, on the floor underneath the nests and we continue to find one there on a regular basis!  The next was found, a few days later, on top of a bale of straw in the barn.  Then, one was found in a crate up by the garage!  These had to be destroyed because we weren't sure how long they had been there.  Now, collecting eggs involves a flashlight and a complete search of the property.  We're looking through the barn, under trees, behind cans: anywhere the Black Sex Links have been hanging out!  What worries us is just how many we may be missing!  And so far, no little blue or green eggs from the Ameraucanas!
In the goat's stall in the barn.