Monday, January 30, 2012

Yummy Butternut Cranberry Bread With Whole Grains

If you read this blog a bit, you know we love winter squash at Aagaard Farms - us, the goats, the chickens: we're all eating squash!  We grow about eighteen kinds, and are fortunate to be able to store them for winter use.  We're always interested in new recipes.  I receive a fantastic e-newsletter from Simple Bites (use the link and go sign up now!), and this past week, it contained a fabulous link to an article on whole grains from Good Life Eats.  We're really committed to using more whole grains, for the health benefits as well as great taste, and there are some great tips in the article for using, storing, grinding and such.  It also contained a recipe for a whole grain pumpkin cranberry loaf.  Just so happened the night before, I had used part of a butternut squash in a chickpea stew so it seemed like it was 'meant to be' that I should try this loaf.  I had put the butternut not used in the stew in the oven to roast while I was cooking so it was ready to go!

Now, the recipe calls for pumpkin, and I have some 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin here but the butternut was roasted and ready to go.  You can replace any winter squash for another in any recipe - it will just change the outcome slightly.  Using butternut instead of pumpkin probably gave me something a little sweeter and a little smoother.  Once you've baked or roasted a squash, you just need to break it up with a fork or hand blender to get exactly what is in a can without preservatives, colorings, BPA or whatever else.  You've got the goodness of just plain, unadulterated squash.  If you'd like a little review of roasting and preserving winter squash, check out this post here.

Here's the recipe link: it called for whole wheat or spelt, oat and barley flour.  I had organic whole wheat, unbleached white and spelt.  Worked well, the result was a moist, dark loaf.  The cranberries add a nice 'zing'.  The recipe called for a little bit of the spice cardamom, which I didn't have, but I just used a  wee bit more of the other spices called for.  Really like this loaf - that recipe is a keeper!  And good to know that Farmer Man is getting his grains!  You don't have to tell them it's good for them - right?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slow Cooking Morning and Evening!

We've gotten back into our slow cooker in a big way the last month.  It's so easy to put it on the shelf and kind of forget about it - especially once summer hits and we're eating fresh, fresh, fresh from the garden!  This all started when sister Keltie shopped at her local Farmers' Market for our Christmas present; she sent us an assortment of great slow-cooker soups from Souptacular in Alberta.  The product is packaged with everything needed, including the spices.  You just put everything in the crock pot with water or stock and walk away!  Six hours later, a beautiful soup, and healthy with a selection of beans, peas, lentils, barley and such.  Our favorite so far is the Tandoori - would be great with chicken added, as well.

With the slow cooker out on the counter, I started to pay more attention to the foodie blogs and Facebook pages that I follow when they talked about slow cookers.  Saw a great recipe for hot breakfast oatmeal in the slower cooker from Simple Bites - instructions are here for Apple Pie Oatmeal.  Takes five minutes before bed to mix the ingredients and you wake up to a hearty, hot breakfast.  The recipe calls for steel-cut oats; we have local organic oat flakes in the house but I bought the steel-cut to trial the recipe.  I also wanted to see what the fuss was all about over steel-cut.  Really good!  We halved the recipe because we're two and also because an appropriate container for the serving for four would not fit in our little crock pot - check that out before you proceed!  The oats are cooked in a water bath (or bain de marie for your foodies): a mix of oats, milk, grated apple and applesauce are put in a heat resistant container like a heavy, glass measuring cup and then placed in the crock pot surrounded by water.  The oatmeal is, essentially, steaming.  The Apple Pie Oatmeal was just delightful!  There's a link in Simple Bite's post to an almond oatmeal - we'll be trying that, too!  And, I'll also be trying to incorporate some of our local oat flakes and spelt groats that are in the house.  Nice thing is, too, that I didn't really get the slow cooker dirty!

I had been online reading about the good value of chicken thighs, as opposed to cooking with chicken breasts, so I picked up a package during my last grocery shop.  Went online and found an easy recipe from the blog What Kara's Cookin'; it didn't require browning of the chicken and called for our homegrown potatoes and carrots!  The recipe calls for half broth/half wine but I used just our stock with a splash of homemade thyme vinegar, to brighten things up.  Less than ten minutes of cleaning and chopping some vegetables, mixing the stock with minced garlic and dried thyme, both from the garden, layer everything and done!  Six hours later a great chicken dinner, the chicken thighs really moist and yummy!  And I love having one pot to clean!

Of course, there was no time between breakfast and dinner to slow cook a lunch.  Lunch for us was eggs fresh from the chicken coop and homemade bread!  Are you using your slow cooker these days?  It may be time to dust it off!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Good Egg!

Did you know that a chicken lays the same egg all the time?  Yes, by species, an Ameraucana will always lay a little pastel blue egg, a Black Sex-Link will always lay a brown egg and a Leghorn will always lay a white egg. But, more than that, each individual hen will lay almost the exact same egg every time she lays!  Some girls lay an almost round egg, some lay long, oval eggs every timem some have freckles.  One of our girls is laying a wrinkled egg quite regularly!  It's definitely one of the young Black Sex-Links, because this is a new thing.  An Isa Brown would not start doing this in her third year.  It's a perfectly fine egg in all respects, it's shell is just wrinkled!  It's the kind of thing you would never get in a package of eggs at the store - egg companies remove this kind of imperfect egg and use it for processing into powdered eggs or baked goods.  It's rather a pity that only 'perfect' eggs are deemed fit for consumption!  I like my eggs with a little character!  Would you be unnerved if you found an egg like this in your carton?  You can have one if you care to come buy some eggs at our farm gate!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Greener Cleaning

In 2012 we're committed to getting greener, making more of our own products, growing and preserving more of our food.  We're aiming at a good degree of self-sufficiency, but we're not gung-ho enough to give up coffee or bananas quite yet.  (Or chocolate...)  We're turning our attention this week to house cleaning products.  There are lots of great solutions for cleaning that don't contain harsh chemicals, aren't overly scented, are less expensive and will be easier on the environment, us and our animals!  Some of these ideas we've been using for so long we don't even know the origins any longer.  Many we've gotten out of Annie B. Bond's 'Eco-Clean Deck', which we won: read about it here.  Some of these recipes have come from our favorite magazines such as Mother Earth News, Herb Quarterly or Organic Gardening.

For many years, our go-to glass and mirror cleaner has been vinegar and water, using one part vinegar to nine parts water.  Lemon juice would do the trick, too; it would be great to be in a warm climate and have cleaner with ingredients from the back yard!  (We also use a similar vinegar solution, made a little stronger, as a non-selective weed killer.)  We've used baking soda as a soft scrubber, especially on our good pots.  One cup baking soda, followed by one cup vinegar for a bubbling affect and then boiling water is quite effective to clean slow moving drains.

After doing some research in the fall, we got together a green cleaning shopping list.  Borax, washing soda, vegetable glycerin, tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract were the major things to buy.  Baking soda, salt, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils are cleaning supplies that are pretty much staples in our house.  I, personally, was a little surprised to easily find the washing soda and borax at my big-box grocery store.  Both, along with the tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract were at our local natural food store.  Did you know that grapefruit seed extract is a very powerful and effective disinfectant?  I was happy to put it on the list because it's also a great preservative for homemade beauty products.  And, it's great to have a more natural product for cleaning not only in the house, but in the chicken coop and goat pen, as well!  Tea tree oil, as well, is a great antiseptic and also very effective against mildew!

So, for general cleaning of dirt and grime, like floors and walls, we're using 1/4 C borax dissolved in 2 liters (about 1/2 a gallon) of hot water.  It's in a spray bottle for use on our laminate floors, counters, walls etc.  Not great, apparently, for real wood.  This is an alkaline cleaner; the 'Eco-Clean Deck' has some great info on alkaline cleaners versus acid cleaners.  Acid cleaners will be better for pet and body stains and odors, and mineral buildup.  'Eco-Clean Deck's acid cleaner recipe is 1/4 C vinegar or lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent or soap and 3/4 C warm water.  Something interesting we learned for the 'Eco-Clean Deck' is that soap is generally from natural sources, detergent is from artificial, largely chemical sources.  So, we're opting for liquid soap: we're using Dr. Bronners Castille/Hemp soap which is a pretty multi-purpose shampoo/body wash/cleaning liquid - awesome stuff   You could also use a natural glycerin soap - both castille and glycerin soaps you can find at your natural food store.  If you're not that militant about keeping it natural, whatever you're washing your dishes with would work!

For an antiseptic cleaner: 1 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp borax, 1/2 tsp. liquid soap, 1 tsp. antiseptic essential oil like lavender, tea tree or the grapefruit seed extract plus 2 cups hot water.  For dish washing by hand: from the 'Eco-Clean Deck', 1 ounce of the liquid soap, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon vegetable glycerin plus five to ten drops of essential oil, an antibacterial one like lavender adds fragrance and extra cleaning!  For the dishwasher: from Mother Earth News, 2 cups washing soda, 1 cup borax and 1 cup baking soda.

Who knew?  Cream of tartar is fabulous for porcelain, according to the 'Eco-Clean Deck'.  We've been using baking soda and water, mixed as a light paste for lots of scrubbing duty.  The Deck lists a heavy duty scrubber as equal parts of baking soda and washing soda.  For a mildew remover try borax, tea tree and just enough liquid soap to make a paste.  For the toilet bowl how about equal parts baking soda and vinegar, which will give you a bubbling, frothy cleaner.  Follow with a good scrub with the bowl brush, invest in a good, sturdy toilet bowl brush.

Doing laundry is a bit more of an interesting challenge.  We haven't tried any homemade laundry solutions yet.  Using soap instead of detergents is the first step.  Castille soap can be used but I haven't found dosage recommendations, just a note that one should always rinse in cold water to prevent any further sudsing.  Washing soda, an alkaline, is great for brightening and whitening, about 1/4 cup for standard machines and 1/8 for HD machines.  About 1/2 cup lemon juice added to the rinse cycle is a great whitener.  The solution we're using for laundry right now is a fabulous Organic Laundry Soap in powder form from Winnipeg's SoGa Soap.  It's ingredient list of organic sunflower and coconut oil, borax, calcium carbonate and fragrance is short and sweet, and just 1/2 tablespoon per load makes it quite economical.  (Louise's CupFake bubble bath goodies are outrageously fabulous, too!)

When you're making the move to greener cleaning, you've got to 'step away' from the disposables.  Disposable dusting clothes, disposable wet cleaning clothes, even the chemical laden 'erasers' and such are filling up landfills quickly!  We've invested in a wet/dry mop with a washable head, a washable mitt for dusting (can't use anti-static/fabric softener with it if you put it in the dryer) and a few different washable cleaning clothes and shams.  For window and mirror cleaning we use the newspaper - works well although it will start to shred if you scrub too much.  Lots of our cleaning and scrubbing is done with rags from old t-shirts and towels - all fully washable and a great form of recycling!  Are you thinking of making a move to greener cleaning?  Please share your recipes and tips in the comments - would love it if you shared!  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Now We're (Trying) To Make Goat Treats!

Who knew?  Apparently, goats have a bit of a sweet tooth.  Training, of any kind, can be greatly enhanced by a little tidbit of something sweet as a reward.  We've seen a few blogs that call cracked corn the 'crack' drug of goats - highly addictive.  Our little herd gets cracked corn in their mixed grain ration everyday, that is how the bagged product is formulated.  So, for training purposes, we needed something extra special: how about corn in corn syrup?  We used the treat recipe on one of our favorite goat blogs, The Henry Milker.  Here's the recipe for their goat treats.

The recipe seems quite simple: boil sugar, corn syrup and water, add cracked corn, cook for a while, remove from heat and add baking soda (good for the goats stomachs).  Sounds easy, right?  The recipe says to bring the temperature of the cooking liquids to 300 F.  Well, I had my candy thermometer in the mixture and it didn't seem to want to budge past 250 F.  Boiled for ten minutes at medium, no movement.  So I nudged the heat up to medium high and still no movement.  I let more than five minutes pass, still stirring and no movement.  I nudge the heat up to high and kept stirring.   My candy thermometer seems to want to just stay at 250 F.  Now, I don't have a lot of experience with making candy and I had doubled the recipe, but this just didn't seem right.  The mixture smelled strongly of sugar and corn at this point and had been boiling for over twenty minutes; the recipe says nothing about how long the cooking will take.  I decide the thermometer is broken, it's been boiling for quite a while and it's probably done!  There is nothing else in the house that measures that high so I'm winging it.  I remove the pot from the heat, let it cool a bit and then add the baking soda.  Immediate bubbling and frothing - the recipe never said anything about that either!  Now, I'm seriously wondering if this is not going well....

The recipe instructs to pour the mixture out onto cookie sheets, let it cool and then break into pieces.  Hmmmm, twenty four hours later, mine is more like salt water taffy: very flexible, soft and stretchy, nothing is snapping off here!  The good news is that the goats were quite enthusiastic about the little sample I took them yesterday!  It's probably the most aggressive I've seen our new little buck around the does as he tried for a second piece!  I'm going to do a little research, or just email Henry Milker and find out how long it actually takes to cook this stuff!  Is there a long, slow period of heat increase in candy making?  Well, always something new to learn: that's a good thing, right?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Gorgeous January Weather!

Usually in January, we'd have at least a couple feet of snow and we'd be looking forward to temperatures around -25 C. (about -18 F.): really, really cold.  Instead, in this odd year that began with flooding, we have very little snow and yesterday it was melting and dripping!  Global warming?  Once in three-hundred-year weather pattern?  That's a whole other blog post!  This kind of weather is actually bad for perennials, trees and shrubs.  Plants that are hardy for us need their freezing period and snow is our best insulation.  Warm weather with patchy snow cover, inevitably followed by very cold weather, is damaging to root systems and drying for stems and branches!

However, the critters are all enjoying this weather immensely.  Sometimes I feel bad about keeping animals in the winter here.  Heck, sometimes I feel bad about keeping us here in frigid weather!  Wouldn't we all be happier in the warmer climes of southern Ontario or the coast of BC.  But, that's not where we live, so we are really going to enjoy the balmy weather predicted for this week!

Doodles getting some sun.
We took the goats out for a walk yesterday.  A little romp, a chance for them to enjoy some natural food.  Goats love leaves and even like the brown, fallen leaves that are exposed right now.  They nibbled in the tomato field, chowed down in the willow shelter belt and really enjoyed the corn field.  We like to leave a certain amount of plant material in place for the winter: it acts as snow fencing, trapping and keeping the moisture of snow in place.  The added bonus this year is that is provides a little treat for the goats!  The dogs, of course, were with us and got some great exercise.  The house cats, Blondie and baby Doodles, hung out by the front door, sunning.
Busy in the chicken pasture.

The chickens have been basking in the sun and enjoying their natural dirt baths since there is no snow.  Usually this time of year, in extreme cold, they would spend most of the day in the coop with heat lamps on!  We try to supply them baths by providing large cat litter boxes filled with peat, diatomaceous earth and wood ash.  Natural is better, don't you think?  Even the barn cats are getting out for a little sunshine! Love the harmony here at Aagaard Farms - cats and chickens mixing to enjoy the sun.  I sometimes find it unbelievable that the barn cats seem to understand that the chickens are off-limits and everyone seems to get along well.  Well, except Grizzly Bear, who just can't seem to grasp the concept that the barn cats have a place here, too.  We'll keep working on him!  Peace and harmony, that's what we like!
Barn kitties and chickens hangin' out!