Musings on Homesteading, Dairy Goats and Future Plans

 

 

This is going to be a long one folks, so for that I apologize. I almost scrapped this post last night. It was one of those nights – I was questioning why I blog and feeling maybe like I was becoming too self-involved or narcissistic – “look at me and all this cool stuff I am doing”. People like that bug me so much, as if they invented blogging, organic gardening, farming or homesteading for that matter.  I try to keep a level head. But then I realized after sleeping on it, that part of why I blog is because I have transformed so much personally these past few years, and I know I have gotten SO MUCH inspiration from others who were already on the homesteading path well before me. Part of my Life’s Work is to bring back the old ways, simpler ways of living, old skill sets that people relied on for centuries. These skills are more and more rare in our modern world. It is my duty to share my story with others and help where I can. If my experiences can help anyone then having this blog is worth it.

 

 

 

As many of my facebook friends and readers know, Roberto and I welcomed two baby Alpine goats onto the homestead a week ago. This important event marks a long held dream for us and a real symbol of something we have been working towards for the past 3 years – the chance to live an honorable, sustainable life as stewards to the land and animals we raise on it.

 

 

The first year we spent looking for a place to call “homestead” in northern Vermont. Last year we started with a large kitchen garden and a mixed flock of heritage breed laying hens. This year we are introducing dairy animals, in the form of the Alpine goats and two Shetland sheep (soon to arrive).

I get to my computer later and later these days. We now have 17 animals on the homestead and will get up to 19 before the end of April, when the sheep come. The morning routine of caring for all these creatures, including bottle feeding the doelings for the next month, means I get settled to my computer and breakfast for the humans by 10:30 or so. I love it, and am happiest when I am outside taking care of everyone. This has made me think a lot about my future plans. Up until this point, my future plans were getting the animals. Now that I have achieved that, I am starting to think about what is next for me, us and our menagerie.

For one, I have started a new blog Got Goats?, where you can follow our goat (and sheep) adventures! It will be a mainly pictorial blog of the goats and sheep and their lives. I already have one about the dogs, so I figured why not the goats too ;) There are a few posts up – mostly pictures and a video. Which with this sup-bar internet connection we have can be frustrating.

 

I have been devoting a lot of kitchen time these past few months on cheese and dairy making as seen through my Let’s Get Cultured series  (with more to come). I am working on a lot of recipes for dairy products so once the goats and sheep are producing milk (late winter/ early spring 2012) I will already know what to do with all the milk! Initially I will be creating dairy products for our own consumption, but do hope to sell them locally, in time. We have already been selling our chicken eggs locally for the past few months. So I am definitely thinking about adding “food producer” to my titles of “food writer” and “food advocate”.

Sustainable agriculture and the local food movement have become so much a part of my life, especially in the last year that I can’t really separate it from my heart and my conscience and I need to be more actively involved. Not just by sitting at a computer and typing, or going to conferences, (both important) but by getting my hands dirty through hard work. The land has been calling me for over a decade and although I might have gotten sidetracked for a few years, I am finally coming back full circle to what I know, in my heart of hearts is my true calling. I have always loved sheep and goats and when I got to work with them over 10 years ago, living on the Navajo Reservation, I knew I was doing what I was meant to.

 

Me as an aspiring shepardess on the Navajo Reservation in 1998…

Someone in the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty, which we recently joined, said to me that food sovereignty is a life and death issue, and I absolutely agree. Not only do I love these animals, but I love the healthy and life affirming foods that we can produce from them and the symbiotic relationship that develops between ruminant and handler, or shepardess, in my case. We live to care for them, and they live to nourish us. In this country where things have gotten so bad for small farms, preserving our inherent right to choose what we eat and where it comes from IS a matter of life and death.

Many people take the food we eat for granted. People are so disconnected from where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. Some know that a lot of animal products are not produced with the welfare of the animals that provide it accounted for. Too many that know close a blind eye to the reality of how animals raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) live and what it does to our environment. Heck many people don’t even want to think that in order to eat and live ourselves, we must kill. Many believe that it is too expensive to eat food that is made with respect to the animals and the environment, much to our universal detriment. I believe we are well past the point where we can afford not to be sustainable in our food systems.

As humans, we have lost our birth right. For at least 10,000 years humans have been working the land. Just in the last 500 years, since the Industrial Revolution did humans start working outside the home in mass numbers to make a living. But even then most families kept animals for food. Children grew up learning the skills needed to take care of themselves – to build houses, create heat, forage for food and grow it. Many of those children were in a better position, as children, than the adults of today. Where we sit right now, we as humans are in the worst health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. More people are seriously ill with chronic health conditions that clearly relates to the foods we eat. Our children are sick and in a world where 1 in 2 children will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime (a lifestyle disease), we are well past excuses. Too many people live pay check to pay check and it only takes a disaster like Katrina or recent events in Japan to see what happens when the majority can no longer depend on the grocery store, mass transit, access to medications or oil.

 

My heart hurts when I look and see how unsustainable most of the world lives. In order for me to look in the mirror and feel like I am living an honorable life, I have to become a truly active partner in the relationship with our food system in a sustainable and respectful manner. At least I need to have the assurance that I can feed my family if a disaster were to occur. I wish it weren’t true but if faced with a disaster, the majority would become destitute before they would know how to take care of their families. We are in a bad place.

So just when I thought my days of institutionalized learning were far behind me, I spent all day yesterday getting a college application, letter of intent and college transcripts together so I can apply for Vermont Table, a summer course being offered at Sterling College, here in Vermont. It is a course that incorporates sustainable agriculture, culinary arts, food writing, local food systems, on farm food production and food entrepreneurism. My love and passion for animals and food are not enough, there is more practical knowledge that is needed and this course offers a holistic approach to this world view that I hold so dear. So I hope to be going back to school in about a month. It is only a summer course, but we will see where it leads, and it should get me on more sure footing when it comes to managing a small homesteader farm and selling products locally on the small scale, which gets me closer to my ultimate goal of homestead sustainability.

Please check out Simple Lives Thursday for more tips on living more simply.

Sugar on Snow

 

 

The sap is running! Surely a sign of spring, in the northern woods, but with a fresh 3 inches of snow on the ground, from a storm that hit on Monday, it looks like winter, still.

Luckily, this past weekend, we did get a few spring-like days. Good for all the locals and tourists who were enjoying the annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend!

The Open House Weekend is a celebration open to the public of the maple syrup season in Vermont. It is an opportunity for the public to visit one or more “sugarhouses” throughout the state to learn about Vermont’s first agricultural crop of the year. Activities during this free event are different at each sugarhouse but include the opportunity to watch maple syrup being made (weather permitting) and often sample syrup and other maple products.

We decided to stay close to home, and actually found a sugar shack right down the road from us. So we dropped in on our neighbors, the Cook’s. We got a nice tour of the sugar shack and learned all about how the maple sap is turned into maple syrup and then how it is graded. There is a lot to it, more than just boiling down sap. One day I hope to tap some of our trees. But until that day, we can enjoy the Cook’s syrup!

 

(photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Outside in the yard, we enjoyed a time honored Vermont tradition of Sugar on Snow, also known as maple taffy. This is definitely a reason not to curse snow at this time of year! The maple sap is boiled past the point for syrup, it is then poured, in its molten state in little puddles on top of fresh snow. If it does not form a puddle, then it needs to be boiled longer.

 

To eat it a fork is twirled in the puddle (kind of like twirling spaghetti) and sampled right off the fork. It is surprisingly addictive. The maple flavor is intense.  We were the last guests at the Cook’s and so they told us we could finish off the last tray of the sugar on snow, which I thought there was no way we could. But it was so good, we couldn’t stop eating it and we finished it off! Traditionally sugar on snow is served with donuts, sour dill pickles, and coffee. The pickles and coffee serve to counter the intense sweetness of the candy. The Cook’s had donuts and dill pickles. The combination really worked. We enjoyed their sugar on snow so much that we bought a half gallon of their syrup and they were kind enough to give us a sample of their maple glazed nuts. So delicious!

Sugar on Snow parties are popular here in northern New England as well as the Quebec region of Canada, where it is known as tire d’érable. If you want to host your own Sugar on Snow party this weekend, here is a great recipe and article to get you started!

 

Starting Seeds

 

Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, meaning the first day of spring! While many of you might be in the throes of spring weather, here in Northern Vermont we still have snow on the ground and flurries coming down. We can expect more snowfall for about another month, although if it does snow, it is not likely to last long. The ground is starting to warm up and with longer days, the sun is out in full force to melt it. Even though on the surface it still looks like winter here, spring has definitely sprung!

Yesterday morning when I was out feeding and watering the chickens, I heard lots of birds singing and squawking in our woods. Little squirrels have been scampering all over the yard and for the last week or so the sun seems brighter and feels warmer. The air is the slightest bit warmer, smelling of spring. In the middle of the night, we were woken to the howls of coyotes, and all the little streams, brooks and maple sap are flowing. These are all portends of spring in this part of the world.

Gardening is still a little more than a month away. Here in our Zone 4 conditions, Memorial Day is often touted as the last danger of frost, and gardening takes over most people’s free time for the rest of the spring. But it is good to start some seeds early.

 

We are really lucky – we have a beautiful 4 season sun room and last year when we got serious about gardening for food, we bought a grow system, so that we could start seeds indoors while a blanket of snow still covered the garden beds or the danger of frost still loomed. Last year we started our seeds late, because we had just moved at the end of April. So we started some seeds indoors and others we just direct sowed into the ground the first week of May. Other seeds we direct sowed in July when the ground was up to the right temperatures. Unfortunately, our peppers, melons and squash (the ones that need warmer soil) really began to take off as the fall frost was imminent and we lost a lot of those plants, many of which were to be storage crops. So this year, we decided to concentrate our seed starting efforts on those more temperature sensitive plants: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash and herbs. We also started several trays of marigolds – indispensable companion plants to vegetables in an organic garden. This way they will have a much bigger head start!

It only took about 2 hours on Sunday (a week ago) afternoon to get our seeds started. First we mixed the organic compost with water, to get it to a moist consistency. Then we loaded the trays with compost and planted the seeds. We labeled each plant, and placed the trays on the grow shelves. In about 5 days the first bit of green started to shoot out – thyme was first, then a baby pumpkin and some oregano. We are still waiting for the rest to show signs of life!
Last year was the first time we saved seeds. We saved seeds from the best specimens that we ate – the biggest and sweetest tomatoes, and the most tender eggplants. We also saved a lot of marigold seeds, dill seeds and radish seeds – these we need a lot of for companion planting. As for the other plants, we got all of our seeds from High Mowing Seed Company – a local company (they are less than 15 miles from us) who specialize in organic and heirloom seeds. We figured those seeds would do best in our particular zone, since they were also grown in it! We are going to try some different varieties of beets, turnips and carrots, plants that did not perform like we thought they would last year. We also got pepper, melon and squash seeds from them this year, thinking we would have better luck with some hardy varieties grown nearby.

If you are new to gardening, no matter which zone you live in, it is a good idea to start tomatoes indoors first and then harden them off for a few weeks before planting. Tomatoes are very delicate when they are young, and if you put seedling out too soon, they are likely to wilt and die in the heat of the sun. So put them out for an hour or two at a time, working them up to being outside all day before putting them in the ground.

 

In other exciting news, today is a busy day on the homestead, with spring fighting for dominance over winter skies, we will welcome our two baby Alpine goats home!  This photo was taken about a week ago when we went to Fat Toad Farm, where they were born, to pick them out.  In the picture above, the black colored one is called Claire, and the tawny colored is Astrid. Aren’t they just the cutest?!  This is a long-time dream coming to fruition and we look forward to working with them. If you have not “liked” my facebook page, I suggest that you do – there are a lot more cute goat pictures!

Best Shepard’s Pie for Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to everyone out there! This year I want to share with you my best Shepard’s Pie recipe to date. This dish is common in Ireland as well as Scotland and England, and it is very quick to throw together. So if you want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but didn’t really plan for it, a Shepard’s Pie is perfect!

I have been working on this recipe for a while. Shepard’s Pie is one of the easiest dishes to make, and it is that very simplicity that makes it such a lure to me to perfect to our tastes. With such a short list of ingredients, the quality of those ingredients makes all the difference. The pie I made before this one was when I really understood that point. Since then, I have added a few other subtle flavors that really add something to the dish, without taking away from its intrinsic simplicity and classic taste.

This past fall Roberto and I butchered a lamb for our own consumption. I wish I had taken some pictures because I so wanted to post about the experience. But I was up to my elbows in the work at hand, and taking photos wasn’t too convenient. It was a wonderful experience and one I plan to do over and over again. I am a firm believer in educating oneself about where you r food comes from. This is why we grow our own, and buy from local farms. Butchering your own meat is about as close you can get to this philosophy.

The lamb and kidney that was used in this recipe is from that lamb we butchered. I know for me, it is hard to come by lamb kidneys, so you can omit this ingredient, but if you can find lamb kidney, I suggest you use it. It adds an amazing richness and earthiness to the pie, but it doesn’t scream OFFAL to your taste buds.

If you are looking for more recipes to celebrate St. Patrick ’s Day, please check out my Real Food St. Patrick’s Day Feast from last year, featuring Guinness Stew, Sautéed Cabbage in a Mustard Glaze, Brown Soda Bread and Guinness Ice Cream!

Slàinte Mhòr!

 

INGREDIENTS:

5 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks – I used Idahos
butter
cream
salt and pepper

2 TBS olive oil
¾ lbs ground lamb
¼ lb ground beef
1 lamb kidney, finely chopped
1 cup sautéed onions and shallot, mixed
1 clove garlic minced
1 cup chopped pickled carrots (you can use un-pickled as well)
1 tsp each dried sage, thyme and rosemary
1 tsp of beau monde seasoning http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-beau-monde-seasoning.htm
salt & pepper
1 ½ cup cup homemade gravy – beef or poultry (heat 1 1/4 cup of stock, add ¼ cup of stout beer or red wine and whisk in 3 TBS of arrowroot powder to thicken. Season with salt and pepper).
handful of corn
handful of peas
malt vinegar
extra butter to put in top before baking

 

METHOD:

Boil the potatoes until tender. Hand mash potatoes with butter and cream, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Prepare the gravy. Then set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place ground lamb and beef, kidney, carrots, onion and garlic in a cast iron skillet. Cook over medium heat until eat begins to brown, and veggies start to soften. Then add your carrots, corn, peas, and spices. Mix together. Pour gravy over top, and stir. Dollop the mashed potatoes on top and spread evenly over the top of the other ingredients, dab with butter and sprinkle a hearty bit of malt vinegar over top for that real pub taste!

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until warmed through and potatoes become golden.

This post was contributed to Simple Lives Thursday.

Cooking with Friends: Sopes & Sangria

Sopes stuffed with local cheese and jalapeno jam

Part of feeling settled in a new community comes with making new friends. Having friends makes you feel more grounded in the place where you live and of course it is always nice to have people to share events, food and good times with! We have been lucky in this regard with our move to Vermont. We will have been living here for a year at the end of April, and we are lucky to have developed several groups of friends here in the local community.  The common vein is that all of these friends were met by way of food. But I guess knowing me, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise!

We met Corey and Kurt during a lamb butchering class we took with Cole Ward, The Gourmet Butcher , this past fall. It was an 8 hour class where we all learned how to butcher a lamb for our own consumption. Cole is a genius and a true artisan of the craft. I can’t wait to take more classes with him! Roberto and I were the only first-timers there. Of course during those many hours we all talked an awful lot about food and recipes. At the end of class, many of us exchanged email addresses. Several of us planned a lamb potluck for January, and for one reason or another, it ended up only being me, Roberto, Corey and Kurt at the dinner.

Since then we have been getting together regularly to enjoy good food, wine and each other’s company either at each other’s houses or out in the community.  Sometimes we even cook together and are making plans to start a Supper Club and acquire more foodie friends!

Corey and Kurt are big foodies. Having lived all over the world they have experienced a lot of different food cultures. They have big plans to host gourmet getaways to Vermont. They already have a beautiful cabin in rural Vermont that they rent out to guests, and are working on having a kitchen put in where they can offer cooking classes and gourmet dinners to their guests.

 

 

The last time we got together, they hosted and made Mexican food.  They had recently taken a class with Chef Courtney Contos (the chef on the Gourmet Butcher DVDs), and decided to keep practicing their new recipes by trying them out on us. I offered to bring drinks. I made nice winter sangria using a dark red zinfandel as the base. I added to it several shots of lavender scented vodka, a splash of vanilla extract and a variety of fruits we had preserved this fall, including, raspberries in syrup and plums in a vanilla-cardamom-rum syrup. I also added sliced blood oranges. I soaked the fruits in the vodka overnight and added a pinch of dried lavender. I meant to take a picture when we served it, but we were already a bottle of wine in, and it slipped my mind. The photo above is one of my favorite photos from this blog and a summer sangria recipe.

For appetizers, Corey made the coolest stuffed masa boats, called Sopes.  Masa is Spanish for “dough” but it usually refers to dough made from reconstituted corn meal.  My friend Ben from What’s Cooking Mexico has a great tutorial on making sopes and other tortillas .

Making the Sopes

 

The only thing we did different with our sopes is that we folded up the sides of the small tortillas to make “boats” before frying them to shape them. We stuffed our sopes with several different options – guacamole, Boucher blue cheese (Highgate, VT) and plain Chevre (Boston Post Dairy, Enosburg, VT). Both of the cheese options were topped with some of Corey’s homemade Jalapeno jam from peppers grown in Georgia, VT. They were all delicious, but I really loved the unique combination of the Boucher blue and jalapeno jam.

Dinner was Mexican rice, homemade beans, and a stewed chicken dish in a tomatillo sauce (via Corey and Kurt’s garden last year), served with freshly made tortillas. For dessert they had roasted pears and pineapple served with homemade caramel. Again, we forgot to take photos, but I promise it was good! We ended the evening with an impromptu Scotch tasting and tea. Definitely a great night!

The BEST Gluten-Free Pancakes EVER!

 

Many of my regular readers and Facebook followers will know that I have been trying to find the perfect pancake recipe for a while with many disasters. When I was still eating wheat, I was trying to find a good sourdough version, and did with my Sourdough Crêpes. Then, once I became gluten-free, I managed the perfect Coconut Pancakes -wheat-free, grain free pancakes using coconut flour. But these yeasted buckwheat pancakes that ferment overnight are absolutely incredible. They are the best pancakes I have actually ever tasted, restrictions aside. Plus they are gluten-free, egg-free and dairy-free – perfect for people with multiple intolerances/allergies.

My dear readers, these pancakes were so good, that I almost cried. Seriously. When you have food intolerances, it is the simple foods that are the hardest to find substitutes for – things like pancakes, pizza crust, pie crust, and bread etc – all the quick and easy go-to foods. Plus for us, Sunday morning pancakes and Friday evening pizza had become traditions that we shared and looked forward to every week. So losing the tradition aspect is really hard.

When you don’t have a substitute you experience many frustrating moments in the kitchen. These are not recipes you can just come up with in the moment either. Learning to bake without wheat, grains, eggs or dairy for that matter means you can’t use the old techniques that you are used to. You have to learn how the new flours work, which leavening agents to use, how to thicken without eggs, etc. Many on-the-fly experiences end in disaster, leading to more frustration.

Sometimes all you want is a regular ‘ol grilled cheese sandwich, or a plate of pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

These pancakes answer the call.

 

I cannot take the credit though; these pancakes are the recipe of my gluten-free guru and good friend Amy Green from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free. Based on a recipe she got from Beard On Bread by James Beard. I love her recipes because I know that I can eat them. There is no gluten or refined sugars in her recipes which means I don’t have to think about substitutions. She really is quite an amazing cook and well educated in the culinary arts – she is currently going to culinary school a lifelong dream she thought she would never realize because of her gluten issues. But she is there learning, and then comes home and applies her learning to figuring out gluten free versions to the most prized baked goods – things like croissants and cream puffs. Can’t wait for those!

Whether it is her mission or not, she takes the guesswork out of it for people like me who are just learning to live a life without gluten and who has a spouse that loves his breads and pastries. I think what makes Amy’s style so appealing is that her husband is not gluten-free either and yet they eat the same meals, so in her quest to feed him the foods he loves, she has to come up with gluten-free versions that are close to the real deal! Which is exactly what I need!

 

So if you are gluten-free or thinking about going that route, I strongly suggest you get her newly released cookbook Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free: 180 Easy and Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, it is full of delicious recipes that even your non-gluten-free friends and family will enjoy! If you purchase it through my link, I will get a small kickback.
Now that I know how much I love these pancakes, I will likely make 2 batches and freeze one. If you are a small family, you might even have leftovers from the initial batch. This will make quick breakfasts nutritious and delicious!

*TIP: I always preheat my oven to 200F, and as each batch of pancakes finishes, I put them on a cookie sheet in the oven to keep them warm. Once all the pancakes are cooked, the cast iron skillet is nice and clean and hot to cook bacon or sausage.

Now for the recipe

Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes


makes about 20 (3-inch) pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

1 package (7 grams) instant dry yeast
2 cups (500 grams) warm water (about 100°F)
1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt
2 cups (260 grams) buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons (42 grams) blackstrap molasses ( I used date syrup)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, melted

I also added 1 tsp of ground cinnamon

METHOD:
Combine the yeast, warm water, salt, and buckwheat flour in a large bowl. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let it sit overnight.
The next day, mix in the molasses or date syrup, baking soda, and melted butter. The batter will be relatively thin. Heat a large pan or griddle over medium heat. Lightly butter the surface and drop 1/4 cup of the batter onto the hot surface. Let it cook until the surface bubbles, then flip it and let it cook all the way through, about 30 seconds. Serve hot with butter and warm honey (we did butter and maple).

Trail Mix and Raw Milk Hot Cocoa

 

Well since Old Man Winter came back with a vengeance last night, I figured I would honor him by posting about one of my favorite winter activities, snowshoeing. I thought this post was going to have to wait until next winter, as we had a definite hearkening of spring this past week. But last night we got hit with the biggest storm of the year by far, with at least 2 feet – and it is still coming down!

Roberto and I discovered snowshoeing last year, and this winter we decided to get our own snowshoes. This morning they came in handy when we had to go out to collect firewood in 4 foot snow drifts, and are very practical when living in a climate such as ours, just to survive and do chores around the house. But they are also a great source of fun for us during the long winter months.

 

(If this picture looks familiar it is because you have likely seen it before, but usually it is bare feet and there is sand instead of snow!)

Snowshoes and cross-country skiing are pretty big sports in Vermont and much like when I lived in Norway, people make a day of going on an adventure. There is nothing like being out in the woods following deer trails or making your own path through the forest. It is not only great exercise, especially towards the latter part of the season, when even with snowshoes on, you sink to about knee high, but it is also breathtakingly gorgeous. The views are all for you, you feel like you are alone in the world, and it is so quiet you can almost hear the snow fall. My favorite time to be out snowshoeing is in the middle of a storm – when you feel very much like you are walking in one of Mother Nature’s snow globes. I always picture it on one of her shelves with the words “walking in a winter wonderland” on it.

Since snowshoeing does take a lot of energy, we always make sure to bring nourishing snacks with us. We usually find a beautiful spot to stop and have a nice snack. Our staple snack is always homemade trail mix. We usually also have a nice bar of dark, fair trade chocolate and sometimes a Tanka Bar. But the trail mix is a must. It is a nice hearty combination of dried fruits and soaked nuts.

 

In Norway, when I used to go ut på tur, or out on a walk – which in the winter meant cross-country skiing, we always brought a nice thermos of something hot to enjoy on our break. So I carried the tradition to our snowshoeing tur here in Vermont. Usually I bring raw milk cocoa, and sometimes I bring a lovely thermos of spicy tea. I learned to make raw milk cocoa from some friends in New Hampshire. It is a revelation in its simplicity. I don’t even feel the need to sweeten it because raw milk is already sweeter than pasteurized milk. So this makes it a definite “health drink” as opposed to a splurge. Regardless, the break and the snack help to re-fuel us for the journey back home.

But trail mix really is good for any time of year. It is a well-balanced snack and definitely keeps you going. So even if it is already spring where you are – make up a batch today and enjoy on the go!

***********************************************

Trail Mix

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup raw soaked and dried organic almonds
1 cup raw soaked and dried organic cashews
½ cup of raw soaked and dried pepitas
½ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) blueberries
½ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) cherries
¼ cup dried (organic, no sugar added, un-sulfured) Turkish apricots
*You could also add dark chocolate or carob chips, or other fried fruits as suits your palate

METHOD:

Here is a great link for the whys and hows of soaking and drying nuts. You can also chose not to soak them. Mix all ingredients together.

Raw Milk Cocoa

For each serving:

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz raw milk
3 TBS fair trade cocoa powder
Pinch of cinnamon
Maple syrup to sweeten

METHOD:

Heat raw milk in a saucepan for about 3-5 minutes, over medium heat, until hot but not boiling. Stir in cocoa powder and cinnamon. Sweeten with maple.

Curing Olives at Home

I intend most of my Thursday, Let’s Get Cultured posts, to be about cultured dairy products. However, from time to time I might feature non-dairy cultured items on Thursdays. Today I am going to talk about curing olives at home.

I learned about home curing olives from Jenny’s blog, Nourished Kitchen. She has an awesome and easy to follow step-by-step guide on how to crack, cure and season olives. She also has one of the best blogs out there, so I suggest once you are over there, to check out her fabulous recipes. I am not re-inventing the wheel on olive curing, so I will refer you to her fantastic blog where you too can see the process for olive curing at home. I do however, have some notes, and then I would like to share with you the various flavors I added to my olives.

But first I will share with you my source for the olives. Chaffin Family Orchards is a diversified farm in the Sacramento Valley of California. Their farm has been in the hands of the Chaffin family for 5 generations. Most of their olive trees are over 100 years old. The farm has been harvesting and producing olives and olive oil for over 75 years. Their olives are farmed without using chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. They use cover crops and rotations of cattle, goats, sheep and chickens to control vegetation and fertilize the orchards. The goats are also used to prune the trees!

Most of the research I did on olive curing suggests that you should soak your olives in water (changing twice daily) for 2-4 weeks. This is the process whereby the raw olives lose their bitterness. If you have ever tried eating a raw olive, you will see why this step is of utmost importance.

Olive Curing Notes:

I found that even 4 weeks was not enough time – I think we soaked our olives for close to two months, and they were still a bit bitter after all that time. I am not sure if it is because I cured them during winter, and it was just too cold in the house, or what. So after about 2 months, we decided to decant the olives, and flavor them but we added about ¼ cup of raw apple cider vinegar to the individually flavored jars. This seemed to take care of most of the rest of the bitterness – but it is not consistent from olive to olive. Some olives still are bitter. We have only started eating one jar, so we will see how the other jars are as we get to them. Maybe they just need a little more time.

Curing olives is really quite easy and straightforward. It is a fun project, especially if you have children and would make great presents to give to family and friends! It is a great traditional skill to add to any homesteader’s repertoire.

My Flavors:

*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Saffron
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Herbs de Provence
*Lemon, Bay Leaf and De Arbol Chili
*Juniper, Mustard, Lemon and Black Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Habanero Pepper
*Lemon, Bay Leaf, Coriander Seed, Cumin Seed, Sumac, Ras el Hanout