Friday, December 30, 2011

Sneaking Into Soap Making!

I'm really interested, okay obsessed, with soap making these days.  We're hoping to have baby goats and fresh milk in about five months (Go, buckling, go!).  The point of adding the goats to our little farm was to have another revenue stream and soap is the easiest path, without the regulations, restrictions and costs associated with selling milk and cheese.  Now that Farmers Market season and gardening is finished I have the leisure to pursue some extra interests.  Problem is, now is not an ideal time to make soap.  Soap making involves lye, a somewhat dangerous ingredient that must be handled very carefully; whenever it is used very good ventilation is always strenuously recommended.  We are at the time of year when we are constantly and consistently in freezing temperatures - not a great time to have windows open.  Furthermore, our kitchen is built in the middle of the house without any windows, only doors leading to other rooms.  And, the ventilation system is elderly and rather questionable.  May not be a great time to be messing the lye.

Noodles and milk, ready for the oven!

So what's someone who is soap obsessed to do?  Aside from bathing a lot in other people's products?  Well, have you heard of soap noodles?  I first read about noodles in the excellent book 'Soap Maker's Workshop' by Dr. Robert S and Katherine J. McDaniel.  It's soap someone else has made that is then grated or shredded fresh and shipped off to the end user.  The end user just has to melt it and then can finish it at will with added ingredients like fragrances, exfoliates and herbs.  This is a process called re-batching or hand-milling.  Soap makers will re-batch if they think the lye is not completely dissolved or the color or fragrance is not right - it's a way to correct and re-make a batch of soap.  Soap makers will also re-batch to add in herbs, flowers or other things that may be damaged in the high heat of the chemical reaction of lye.  You can make your own noodles by simply grating bar soap.

Going online to find soap noodles proved interesting.  You can buy soap noodles by the shipping container: apparently lots of large commercial soap sellers are not making their own soap from scratch!  I found smaller quantities at the site Soap Crafters, a wholesaler for soap and beauty product supplies.  They had a good assortment including a very simple goat milk noodle!  I ordered and was so excited to receive my box of noodles just before Christmas.  Rather a surprise then, when I went back online to make a note of the ingredients to find the Soap Crafters site closed down because the company had been sold to Elements Bath and Body Works!  It's taken a few weeks, but Elements is finally listing one soap noodle, a Shea butter soap.  Hopefully, Elements will add more noodles in the next little while!
First batch, more a bar than a block.

The process of working with the noodles is really quite simple.  The included instructions say to melt it in the oven, in an appropriate oven-proof container, at 200 F, stirring occasionally, until it resembles a very thick soup.  Pour into your chosen mold, cool, remove from mold, cut and cure for at least two weeks but six weeks for best results.  For my goats milk soap, the instructions called for 1/4 to 1/2 cup of goat milk to be added to one pound of noodles before putting into the oven, and fragrance, exfoliants and herbs are added and stirred in just before pouring into the mold.  The McDaniels' book says you can also do it in the microwave or a crock pot.

First batch involved some of the lovely, fresh goat milk from Brambles Nubian Goat Farm.  I made it just simple and straight forward, and did just one pound, 1/2 cup was all the milk I had to spare.  It took just over an hour to melt down the noodles.  Found my chosen mold, an old plastic bread or loaf holder measuring 4" wide by 9" long, was quite large for one pound of soap and I got about an inch of soap in the bottom of the container!  A few days later, with store-bought goat's milk I did a two pound loaf, which gave me a block of soap about two inches high.  For this one I added lavender essential oil, about ten drops.  Smells very nice, so far!  Yesterday, I did a three pound batch, adding 1/4 cup of honey and a cup of ground oatmeal, as well as the goats milk.  Three pounds made for better sized slices!  Now, for the waiting and the curing....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homemade Dog Treats!

In the flurry of baking that went on just before Christmas, I finally got around to something I've been meaning to do for quite a while: homemade doggie biscuits.  As we progress in our quest to be more self-sufficient and eat as local as possible, we're working on including our animals as well.  I also like the idea of our doggies not having preservatives, colourings and other unpronounceable ingredients in commercial biscuits.  I chose to try this recipe for cheddar cheese dog biscuits, because our dogs love cheese!

The recipe calls for whole wheat flour, rolled oats, corn meal, eggs, milk, butter, water and chicken bouillon cubs, plus the cheddar.  I used a combination of local whole wheat, rye and spelt flours because I wanted to use up some of the grains in the pantry.  I also substituted my local oat flakes for the rolled oats.  The eggs, of course, came from our chicken coop.  Butter, milk and cheddar came from the store - but we're hoping to remedy that by spring when our goats, hopefully, have babies and start producing milk!  The corn meal and bouillon cubs were store brought, but I'm thinking I could replace the water with my homemade stock to get that 'meaty' flavor.  The recipe comes together quite quickly and is oven baked.

The result - a hit with my dogs!  The cookies are chewy, not crunchy like the commercial biscuit we've been using.  We gifted some little bags of the biscuits to friends with dogs, so I'll be interested to see what the reports will be!  Because there are no preservatives, the biscuits must be refrigerated and last up to a week.  We kept enough for about five days in the fridge and froze the rest.  We made a small size, an inch square, because we (mostly) have small dogs.  Because of the fiber, we've been cautious about feeding them - too much fiber can be a bad thing!

In an interesting coincidence, opening our presents Christmas Day, my sister Cathy had sent a great little kit for making doggie treats: a paw-printed container, a recipe book with eighty recipes and some cute cookie cutters shaped like a bone or a cat!  Stay tuned as we try some of these new recipes!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Fabulous, Fresh Christmas Present!

A fresh present!
When we went to Brambles Nubian Goat Farm to pick up our buckling, Rebecca gave us an awesome present: fresh goat milk!  I've never had fresh milk and it is beautiful: creamy, mild and a wee bit sweet.  Like so many things - blows away the stuff in the stores!  I can hardly wait until we have our own steady supply (Go, Buckling, Go!).  What to do with fresh goat milk a couple of days before Christmas?  Make cheese, of course!  And maybe a little soap.....

Heat until steamy and frothy, not boiling!
The tiny curds draining.
We've made cheese before; we acquired a great starter cheese kit on Etsy from Urban Cheesecraft, which has everything you need.  Making simple, soft cheese is really quite easy.  The milk goes into a heavy, stainless pot and is heated to 180 - 190 degrees Fahrenheit, until it's steaming and frothy but not boiling, stirring regularly.    Then, you add in citric acid dissolved in water.  Curds start to form almost right away - for our goat cheeses the curds have always been tiny.  Stir for a few minutes off the heat, then pour into a cheesecloth lined colander.  We capture the whey, the yellow liquid, because it's great for the chickens or in place of stock in soups and stews.  The cats quite like it, too!

Packing the curds into the mold.

The curds are left to drain for ten minutes, then kosher salt is stirred in.  Then, the curds are placed in a mold, or for a casual ball, you can just leave them in the cheesecloth.  We weighted down the curds for a firmer set, we put plastic wrap over the top of the mold and popped on a jar of jam.  After refrigerating for an hour, we have a nice, soft goat cheese!  And sooooo tasty!
The finished product!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Goatlings! Have We Got A Surprise For You!

Yes, that's him, hiding behind the Farmer!

This week brings the birthdays of all three of our little Nubian doelings!  Yesterday Chocolate turned one, today is Mabel's birthday and Saturday will be Goldie's first birthday.  We had decided months ago  that they would get a very special present, so yesterday we made a trip to Brambles Nubian Goat Farm up by San Clara, Manitoba.  Brambles is where the girls all came from and we needed something special for them that only Brambles could supply.

We returned after dark last night with an eight month old registered Nubian buckling, a gorgeous little guy who is brown with some white and black patches, mostly on his legs.  When Rebecca, of Brambles, introduced me to the little guy my first question was: "Is he old enough to do-the-deed?'.  Farmer Man came in the barn a short time later and asked almost the exact same question!  He is probably about twenty five or thirty pounds lighter than our three does (who admittedly may be a wee bit over-weight), and two or three inches shorter at the shoulder.  He is very festive looking at the moment with some bright green splotches: something about a tattoo ink bottle accident a couple of days ago, but Rebecca assures us that it will wash off easily or wear off in a few days!

Look at those festive, green ink spots!
He is just gorgeous; the full Nubian ears, a long slender nose, beautiful big brown eyes, excellent lines!  Farmer Man would like to call him 'Randy', but I'd like to get to know him a bit better before picking a name.  He smells like a goat buck with a musky, smokey scent that the girls don't have.  He has not, unfortunately, been the instant success we were hoping for.  The goatlings were in a bit of an uproar when we pulled up to the barn last night.  We've never both been away so long and the girls had not gotten their afternoon or evening grain ration and it was past their bedtime and we still hadn't 'tucked' them in!  We got the little buckling out of his crate on the back of the truck and set him in the corral where he promptly started to bawl and bleet.  I got some grain for everyone: we fed him in the corral and the girls in their usual spot in the barn but left the barn door open.  When they finished their grain, the girls came out for a look.  Chocolate promptly head butted the little fellow, Goldie chased him around the picnic table and Mabel just went back inside the barn.  So much for love at first sight!

The two doelings continued to be quite aggressive with the young buck so we decided to take the crate off the truck, put it in the barn and he could have separate accommodations for the night.  Farmer Man found a pallet that would fit over the open door so that the little guy wasn't completely cooped up in the dark.  This morning, Farmer Man went and hang out with them for quite a while; he even took all four for a little walk while he gathered kindling.  Mabel, as always, is sweet and gentle, just sniffing at him from time to time.  Goldie continues to chase him a bit, Chocolate continues to take runs at him, horns first!  He did show a bit more gumption today - pushing back a bit, so to say!  Other times, the little buckling goes to hide behind Farmer Man anytime the doelings approach.  According to everything we've read, once the goatlings even just smell a virile male, they should go into heat within ten to fourteen days, so there may be an attitude adjustment in the next couple of weeks!  And hopefully, some baby goats will be bouncing around the farm in May!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fresh Greens For Everyone!

We try to keep ourselves and our animals, as natural and chemical free as possible.  During the growing season our chickens, goats and Berkshire pigs are all in pastures: free to roam, nibble on fresh food and be what they are.  The chickens scratch the dirt to eat bugs and seedlings, the goats try to climb trees to eat leaves and bark, the pigs eat everything and wallow in mud.  Here in Manitoba now, however, we are now frozen solid with a bit of snow.  More snow will come, of that we're sure.  So how do we keep our animals eating fresh food?  Well, fortunately, they all appreciate a good winter squash.  The chickens love the seeds and like the flesh.  The goats love the skins and the flesh.  Fortunately, we have a root cellar and have a good stash of winter squash.  When we cook one for ourselves, we'll keep the seeds for the chickens.  It's too bad neither type of animal has much use for potatoes, garlic and onions, although a little garlic in the chickens' water is suppose to be good for them!

This is when our sprouter comes in handy!  We've blogged about it before here; we love this thing.  We've got a wide variety of seed mixes for sprouting and everybody loves them.  Farmer Man will have them on his sandwiches, the chickens go nuts for them and even the goats seem to be enjoying them.  We love the idea of everyone get fresh, nutrition-packed food!  As soon as the mania of Christmas is over, we'll start some flats of lettuces, which we'll share with everyone.  The trendy micro greens for salads for us, maybe a flat in the chicken coop for them to peck at -- and then they'll probably have a dust bath is what remains!  A double win for the chickens!  The goats are new to this, but they seemed to enjoy their first encounter with sprouts!  I may try to force some branches for the goats after Christmas to keep them in their favorite: willow leaves!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Goldie and Chocolate May Need An Agent!

Mabel never made it online - until now!

Our goats may be getting famous!  I posted the bottom picture of the goatlings getting on the roof on the Aagaard Farm Facebook page.  One of our 'fans' is our pal Michele McDougall, who just happens to be the Weather Person on CityTV's Breakfast Television in Edmonton.  She asked permission to use it on air and on her great blog of Fresh Air moments.  Check it out, including her on air comments!  We've already had a couple of great emails from new 'friends'.  Just don't tell the goatlings - don't want it going to their heads!  If you want to keep up on the goatlings - come on over a like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Hard to Recognize Joel Salatin Without His Hat!

It's the same, for me, with many professions!  The hockey or football player is more familiar with helmet on, the way I'm used to seeing them!  Would I recognize Queen Elizabeth on the street, without a crown or fancy hat?  And who was that guy on stage yesterday at the Manitoba Conservation District Association conference in a navy blazer, dress shirt and tidy slacks?  Where was the Farmer Dude with the big hat and suspenders?  Ah, but when he started to speak, I knew I was in the right place!

We were glad to have a chance to see Joel Salatin speak yesterday.  What he writes resonates greatly with us!  We've got a couple of his books: 'Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal' and 'Pastured Poultry Profits'.  He's been on the forefront of the movement for healthy, natural, local food for many years now.  His books tell the often funny tales of his run-ins with commercial agriculture and government bureaucrats as he just tries to produce good food!  His methods are both old-fashioned and cutting edge, and full of common sense!

I wonder how many of yesterday's crowd had previously heard of Joel Salatin?  The MCDA is a provincial association of people and groups involved in watershed issues; they are a diverse group representing municipalities, utilities, businesses, habitat conservationists and more!  Mr. Salatin talked about the uncontrolled run off that had stripped most of the soil from his Virginia farm over the decades, the loss of the precious resource of spring run-off that he avoids by building natural ponds.  His natural way of managing his cattle on pasture precludes the need for manure retention ponds and the danger of leakage into ground water and water systems.  He spoke of how his family has been slowly rebuilding the lost soil using sustainable methods that don't require the use of fertilizers, which are expensive and can leach into water systems causing algae blooms.  I hope he brought some new ideas to the table!

I love that Joel Salatin's and his business, Polyface Farms, are about what he calls the 'whole-ism' of ecosystems.  He wants to let a chicken be a chicken, a pig be a pig and pasture should be what it was meant to be: perennial grasses.  In nature, the bison moved into an area, ate the grass down and moved on, allowing the grass to re-grow.  Why did someone figure that it is was better to pen them in tiny corrals and feed them unnatural grains and corn?  Not for better food, that's for sure.  It was for profit and convenience.  Mr. Salatin called himself a 'bio-terrorist' because he allows his chickens to cavort with wild birds!  If you don't raise poultry, you may not know about the issues of the avian bird flu scare.  Some in the industry claimed small producers, like Aagaard Farms, were vectors for bird flu because we didn't immunize and feed antibiotics to our birds and we allowed them outside where wild birds can carry the flu.  Poultry, like pigs and cattle, are suppose to be outside, we believe, eating what they're suppose to eat.  And their lives interesect on many levels: pigs root around trees, opening land.  Chickens eat parasite larvae from cow patties so that the cows don't get re-infested.  Cow patties fertilize the land, allowing fresh, healthy re-growth of food plants.  And so on!

We were fortunate enough to have two presentations from Joel Salatin yesterday.  Both were of great value to us, who are trying to 'grow good food for our neighbors'.  At this time of year, when we reflect on the past year and plan for the new year, it's just great to have been touched by the enthusiasm and vigor of someone like Mr. Salatin!  And as he said, to paraphrase, if it didn't go well, keep trying!  And we will!  And we're wishing that everybody gets a copy of one of Joel Salatin's books in their stocking this Christmas.  We think every single Ag student should have to read one!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dark Days 11/12: Week 1

The Dark Days Challenge is underway!  We decided our first meal of local food for the challenge would be Monday, which we've been observing as Meatless Monday  Not too much of a stretch for us as we are vegetable growers!  Looking around, we decided on baked beans, from our stash of 'Jacob's Cattle' which we harvested this year.  Also had a 'Small Wonder' spaghetti squash on the counter, very ripe, so thought we'd use a recipe for a squash pancake that we haven't used in a while.  We usually do a bean recipe with rice and although we do have some local wild rice, we decided to use 'Cavena Nuda', a rice substitute that is actually a type of hulless oat or naked oat!

There is a lot of conflicting information out there on using fresh, dried beans.  We harvested ours late in September, it took us a few weeks to get them cleaned and ready for storage.  Some info says you shouldn't have to soak fresh beans at all and they should cook quickly.  Other sources say you should still soak them for a short period, if nothing else but to remove the sugars that can cause the 'musical' effect.  We did soak them for a couple of hours, changing the water a couple of times.  They plumped up nicely but lost most of their lovely cranberry/ivory color!  We then chose to use our home canned marinara sauce for baking the beans..  This is a multi-purpose tomato sauce from Sherri Brooks Vinton's excellent 'Put 'em Up!'.  All tomato sauce ingredients were from the farm.  We sauteed a bit of our onion and garlic and then mixed beans, sauce and sauteed veg in a baking dish and into the oven!  The mixture was done in about an hour and a half - so very quickly for baked beans!

We roasted our little spaghetti squash (and roasted some butternut, too, for a nice soup tonight!).  We used Molly Katzen's recipe for the squash pancake, from here.  We didn't get the full amount of cooked squash called for in the recipe and adjusted the ingredients on the fly.  Our chicken coop supplied the eggs, our flour is local and organic: De Ruyck's that we get from Two Farm Kids, and we just skipped the salt and pepper.  When I cracked one of the eggs it was a double yoker, and may have made the pancakes a little too 'eggy', but they were good nonetheless.  Alongside were our nude oats, which are an excellent rice substitute!  They are chewier than rice, but a lovely wheaty flavor - and good for you!  A tasty, hearty dinner for one of our coldest nights so far this year!  Have you cooked a totally local meal  recently?  Even if you're not blogging, feel free to join in  The Dark Days Challenge by telling us about it in the comments section!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making Largely Local Lip Balm

We're rather interested in anything we can make for ourselves these days.  And the more local the better!  If you're not aware, we're participating in The Dark Days Challenge, a group of bloggers writing about the challenges of eating local food through the winter.  If you follow us on Facebook, we're sharing links for everything from making dog biscuits to Christmas decorations to bath and beauty products!  It's interesting to contemplate just how self-sufficient we could be - supplying most of the ingredients ourselves!

We're working on bringing a little boy goat here shortly, so that we will have our three little goatlings pregnant for the spring and will be milking by April.  We hope to provide ourselves with milk, cheese and butter, and to add to our farm income by making and selling goat milk soap and creams!  I use goat milk soaps now, which are fantastic for my somewhat sensitive, dry skin.  Selling milk and milk products is way out of our means, involving regulations galore and investment in a commercial grade kitchen and equipment. In the quiet days of winter, I'd like to get started on trying some products.  Stay tuned for an easy entry into soapmaking!  I remembered a great little recipe for lip balm in one of my favorite magazines, The Herb Quarterly,  in the Summer 2010 issue.  The recipe is by Janice Cox, whose excellent book Natural Beauty At Home I've owned for a while.  With cold weather here to stay, lip balm is something we'll be using regularly!

The basic recipe in the magazine calls for 1 tsp. coconut oil, 1 tsp almond oil and 1/2 tsp. grated beeswax.  You simply microwave the ingredients on low for in short bursts for a total of one to two minutes, mix well and pour into little jars or tubes.  Little pots and tubes are easy to access at craft stores, or online at eBay and the many websites for DIY soap/body product makers.  I tried a batch of this last week using local canola oil, and it is quite nice, but light.  I didn't even think to take pictures, just got motivated one afternoon to make it after I ran across some beautiful, local beeswax from Hive on the Hill at a craft market!  I think I was a little light on the beeswax, got to pack it a bit after grating.  We've got coconut oil here, which we've been experimenting with for cooking and baking because of its health benefits.

I decided on trying a batch with Manitoba Harvest hemp oil, which we use regularly in our smoothies because of it's high level of essential fatty acids; it's local, organic and has some great skin benefits (I'm using a lotion from Manitoba's Hemp Lady right now)!  Because hemp oil has a very low boiling point, I melted the coconut oil and beeswax first, in ten second increments, stirring between blasts, until it was liquid, than added the hemp oil for another twenty seconds.  Total microwaving was about sixty seconds!  I stirred well, than poured into little waiting pots.  I like this balm much better: it's richer and more emollient.  Because of the hemp, it is a lovely green shade, but that doesn't show up on the lips.  It does smell and taste a wee bit 'grassy', but I don't mind that!  Now, I'm wondering what local product could replace the coconut oil, but that's a tough one!  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which makes it great for balms, and it has it's own skin benefits.  Maybe a vegetable shortening, although everything in the stores has soy or cottonseed or something not even slightly local.  More research is definitely required!  I've also been thinking about natural colors: I've read about dehydrating beets and carrots and grinding them to powders to add color.  I'm wondering if that would make the balm more prone to spoiling, again more research is required.  I've also got some strawberry 'leather' here that I made this summer but it does have the seeds in it; it might give flavor and color but again, might spoil!  But, I've got all winter to work on it!  Have you ever made your own balms or lotions?  I'd love to hear about it - please leave a comment!