Tag Archives: Homesteading

Welcome Spring

This post is dedicated to my friend and fellow blogger Linda who blogs at Walkin’, Writin’ Wit and Whimsy. Linda, who takes readers along as she walks at various parks in South East Michigan and introduces us to the furry and feathered friends she meets along the way, has been as eager as I have for the arrival of spring. On occasion her posts reference classic songs – oldies but goodies –  leaving me with an ear worm for the day. As we welcome spring, Linda, I thought I’d return the favor.

So let me tell ya ’bout the –

BIRDS

Sunday morning as I walked out the door on my way to open up the chicken coop for the day I was greeted by the song of a robin. It is a sound I have become quite familiar with over the past few years as each spring a robin nests in the maple tree outside our bedroom window. He or she starts singing each morning long before the sun comes up, (sometimes as early as 3:30 a.m.) and long before my husband and I are ready to awaken. If the early bird catches the worm then this is one well fed robin.

In Michigan it is said that robins are a sure sign of spring but the truth is that some robins stay in Michigan throughout the winter. Robins that migrate south for the winter are doing so because of the limited food supply available this time of year, not because of the cold temperatures. During the winter those that stay will eat fruit and berries that are left on the trees/bushes.

As I arrived at the farm to open the chicken coop two robins flew swiftly past me. 🙂

Red winged black birds are also said to be a sign of spring.

 

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I spotted this one as Trooper and I walked the back field yesterday.

Our hens have been enjoying the weather and egg laying has increased – we are now averaging about 12 eggs a day from our 23 hens.

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Spring is also the time of year when baby chicks show up in the farm stores. Each year that I have been blogging I have shown pictures of adorable little chicks that will be raised on our farm. Thus far we have only raised egg layer but this year is a little different. These will not be laying hens.

IMG_4799It’s ok to say “awe, they’re cute” – just don’t get attached because they won’t be with us long. (That note is as much for me as it is for you).

and the BEES
Several days last week temperatures warmed enough for the bees to come out for a cleansing flight. We had just one hive going into winter and were relieved to see that they are still alive. It is not warm enough to open the hive yet and since nothing is in bloom they are still dependent on their winter food stores.

and the FLOWERS

Even more promising than seeing robins were the daffodils that have begun to emerge from their winter sleep.

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Soon we will be seeing their smiling yellow blossoms at various places throughout the farm. 🙂

and the TREES:

We decided not to make maple syrup this year but if  you are interested in how we do that you can check out my posts from previous syrup seasons 2018, 2017 , 2016 and 2016. Based on temperatures that we have had last week and this week I suspect that had we tapped our trees this year we would be cooking syrup this week.

In the past few years it has been my observation that the first trees to bud in our area are the poplar trees. Their flowers, that actually look more like caterpillars, provide resin that is collected by honey bees and used to make propolis.

The maples seem to bud out next and while this triggers the end of the syrup season it is good for the bees as the flowers of the maple trees seem to be their first source of food in the spring.

and the Moon Up Above

Last night my husband mentioned that the moon was close to being full. This morning, before daybreak, the sky was clear and the moon was bright. This year spring is being ushered in by the full moon.

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and a Little Thing Called Mud

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As the snow melts and the ground thaws there is no avoiding it. When you live in the country mud is more than a “little thing”. Water + dirt = MUD. Lots of mud. You learn to deal with it. For us that means wearing a pair of rubber boots and rinsing off our boots and the boys paws with a garden hose before we go into the house.

Over the past 8 years we have learned that starting the year with this kind of moisture in the ground is more of a benefit than a nuisance. By mid June we often find ourselves in a dry spell and are using the pond water to keep our gardens alive.

 

If there is one this that is certain about spring in Michigan it is that the weather is extremely uncertain. Currently our day time temperatures are getting above freezing while the nights drop back below freezing. Today as I look at the 10 day forecast it shows that trend will continue for about the next week. Tomorrow when I look at the forecast that might change. It’s not surprising to have snow storms and freezing temperatures well into April and even May. On the other hand summer weather might show up at anytime and be here to stay. For better or worse the calendar says spring is here.

WELCOME SPRING! (Happy Dance 🙂 )

What is your favorite season?

 

 

 

 

Baking With Sourdough

Now that I have mastered the art  science mystery of baking with sourdough I have to tell you about it. LOL!! I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. The truth is I have nowhere near mastered baking bread with sourdough, and my post about my trials (and errors) of making sourdough bread is still a work in progress.

Fortunately there is more to sourdough than just making bread. What I do have for you today are two recipes that I have made with sourdough that are really good.

The first one is sourdough banana bread. I made this once following the recipe as written but added a half cup or so of blue berries. It turned out good but a bit dry. The second time that I made it I added one more mashed banana and of course added the blue berries. It turned out perfect. 🙂

The second recipe I made today. It is this recipe for sourdough chocolate cake. I made a few changes to this recipe as well – I used melted butter instead of  vegetable oil; I used unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa; and I did not add the espresso powder.

I also decided not to make the frosting that goes with this cake recipe. In my laziness I decided just to put some store bought vanilla frosting on it. However, in his great wisdom, my husband suggested we taste the cake without frosting. Well let me tell you, it is moist (almost brownie-like) with a rich chocolate flavor and even had a little crispiness on the top. Delicious!!! There was absolutely no need to add frosting or anything else to this cake.

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As you can tell Trixie is earning her keep and we are most pleased to have her as part of the family.

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Now it’s your turn – have you ever had sourdough desserts? Do you have a favorite?

Learning To Ferment Foods – Sourdough (Part I)

My husband and I eat a lot of bread – toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, maybe even some type of biscuits or rolls to accompany whatever is on our dinner menu – but lets face it, the plain white bread that you buy in the grocery store has little to no nutrition to offer nor does it have any flavor, at best, as my husband would say, “it will make a turd”. I began buying some more expensive whole grain breads to at least increase my fiber intake, but even these breads are loaded with ingredients (oils and preservatives) that are unnecessary and potentially unhealthy.

I have been aware that sourdough is a healthier option for a while now and if we shop at a place that sells sourdough bread we usually pick up a loaf, but most of our local grocery stores do not sell sourdough breads as it is not a convenient food. Now it’s time to make our bread.

What Is Sourdough?

Sourdough is a fermented culture that uses friendly yeast and bacteria. It is used as a leavening agent and replaces yeast in bread recipes. This article from Natural News tell us why sourdough is a healthier choice than yeast breads. The main points are:

  • Sourdough breaks down gluten allowing some people who may be sensitive to gluten to be able to enjoy it.
  • Sourdough makes starches more digestible.
  • Sourdough lowers insulin resistance while increasing glucose tolerance.
  • Sourdough allows for better mineral absorption.
  • Additionally sourdough does not require a lot of ingredients – this basic white bread has only three ingredients – flour, water and salt. It keeps well so it does not require preservatives.

Fermented Foods Are Not Fast  Foods

If you have been following my recent posts about fermenting foods you probably realize that these foods take a long time (days or even weeks) before they are ready. It takes much planning, time and patience to make fermented foods and sour dough bread is no exception.

Obtaining A Sourdough Starter

The first step in making sour dough bread is to obtain a sour dough starter. To do this I had a few options. I could purchase a starter – I would have had to order one online because this is not something that can be found in our local stores. I could make my own and there are many online tutorials for making sour dough starter, or perhaps I could find someone who makes sour dough bread and obtain some from them. Hmm.

It was in early January when I was visiting a friend who makes and sells sourdough breads, I began asking her about her starter. After telling me that she doesn’t sell her sourdough starter she gave me details on how to make my own. It sounded easy enough and I decided I would try it, but before the end of our visit she placed a couple cups of her started in a dish and gave it too me. I was thrilled!!!

My next stop was at Hobby Lobby so I picked up this container to keep my sourdough starter in. I chose this container for a few reasons – 1. I wanted glass so I could see though it. 2. It was large enough for me to build up a good amount of starter. 3. The opening is large enough that I can scoop out of it. 4. Although the lid had a plastic ring for a tight seal I was able to remove the ring so the lid sits on the jar but does not seal thightly.

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When I got home I gave the jar a good rinse in very hot water before putting my starter in it.

Maintaining The Starter

Having a sour dough starter on hand takes commitment. Sourdough is a living being and  it needs to be fed daily. It’s not quite as bad as having kids or pets because you don’t have to clean up after it (usually).

Usually???   Let me tell you a story my friend shared. She keeps her starter in a plastic container with a snap on lid. The starter was growing in the container and she apparently was not paying attention to it. She showed me how the starter had exploded and blew the lid off the container. The sour dough splattered everywhere – walls, ceiling, counters, floors and everything in between. The plastic lid landed in a trash can about 8 feet away. Thus I learned an important lesson. Do not keep sourdough starter in a sealed container!! A loosely fitting lid is appropriate.

Once I put my starter in it’s new home I fed my it per my friend’s instruction – 1/2 cup of flour and a little less than 1/2 cup of purified water. I stirred it up and covered it. A while later I could see it bubbling. I then started reading about sourdough on this website. The website has lots of information on fermenting foods. I learned that perhaps I should be feeding it twice a day, and that the best way to measure the amounts of water and flour to feed it is to weigh equal amounts of each.

Since the starter does not speak up when it is hungry and I am afraid I might forget to feed it, it has been given prime real estate on my kitchen island. Thus far I have maintained my starter by feeding it 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water – one or two times per day.

Naming My Starter

This may seem a bit odd but it seems to be common for people to name their sour dough starters and I do think it is easier to refer to it by name than “my sour dough starter” all the time so my friends, meet Trixie.

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She Does Tricks

To be honest getting and maintaining the starter has been the easy part.  Since baking good sour dough bread has been more of a challenge I have decided to share those trials and errors in an upcoming post.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

Have you ever eaten sour dough bread? Do you make your own?

 

Lacto Fermentation – Sauerkraut

I would venture to guess that there is not one pharmaceutical that can :

  • Help improve digestion
  • Improve immune function
  • Reduce inflammation and allergies
  • Support cognitive health and mood
  • Provide cancer fighting anti-oxidants

but according to this article  eating sauerkraut and other fermented foods can do all those things. This post is part of a series I am writing on fermenting foods and for anyone who has come across this post but has not read my introductory post – you can find it here with more information about the health benefits of fermented foods.

For those who are not familiar with it sauerkraut is fermented (pickled) cabbage. I have been eating and enjoying sauerkraut for as long as I can remember. Sauerkraut and sausage has always been a family favorite and a I have always loved a Rueben sandwich with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese stacked on rye bread and then grilled. Growing up our sauerkraut was purchased in cans or jars at the grocery store.

I have made homemade sauerkraut with some degree of success in the past, which also means some degree of failure. 😦 The major “failure” was a large batch that went bad during the fermentation process. I could tell it was “bad” because it had a rotten – putrid smell to it. Eww! I can’t say for sure what caused it to go bad, but knowing what I know now I’d guess it was that the salt I used had an anti-caking agent added.

The batch the was a success had the smell that is unique to sauerkraut ( I’m not sure how to describe it but it does make my mouth water). It also had the wonderful and hard to describe flavor of sauerkraut – tangy – somewhat sour – somewhat sweet – somewhat salty all in one and it still had a some of the raw cabbage flavor which seems to disappear once sauerkraut had been pasteurized or canned. During the fermentation process the texture of the cabbage softened some but it did retain some of the crunchiness. Since this batch was 3 or 4 gallons I found it necessary to can most of the sauerkraut in order to preserve it. Although we were able to enjoy it for months to come, and there is certainly nothing wrong with eating cooked sauerkraut, (at minimum it still provides some good fiber) it no longer contained the beneficial probiotics that developed during the fermentation process.

Remember probiotic food needs to be consumed raw.

After successfully fermenting our garlic I decided it was time to make some sauerkraut. Since cabbage is not in season this time of year I purchased one when I was doing my grocery shopping. I decided to make only one quart in a wide mouth canning jar and found a recipe that told me I would need about 1 3/4 lbs. (.68039 kg) of cabbage and 1 table spoon of salt. I again used the Pink Himalayan salt. I also decided to keep it simple – there are many recipes out there that add different vegetables and herbs to sauerkraut – but I really like just plain (fermented) cabbage.

The process for making sauerkraut is different than fermenting garlic  because instead of making a brine to pour over the vegetables, cabbage makes it’s own brine. I sliced the head of cabbage in thin strips and weighed out 1 3/4 lbs.  I put it in a bowl then I sprinkled the salt on the cabbage and worked it in with my hands. The salt helps pull the water out of the cabbage. I then packed all of the cabbage into a wide-mouth, quart size canning jar. It is a tight fit and needs to be packed very tightly. There are tools designed to assist in this process. They are called sauerkraut stompers or pounders and although they vary in design they are consistently some type of fat wooden stick. I don’t own a sauerkraut pounder but I do keep a rubber mallet with a wooden handle among my kitchen utensils. The wooden handle was perfect for pounding or packing the cabbage into the jar. The reason for pounding or packing it tightly is to squeeze the water out of the cabbage thus mixing with the salt and creating the brine. Once the cabbage is packed tightly into the jar there should be enough brine to fully cover the cabbage. It is important that the cabbage be fully submersed, so if I ever come up a little short I will make up some brine to add.

I then placed my smaller jar (see fermenting our garlic post) inside the wide mouth jar as a weight to hold the cabbage beneath the brine. I covered it with a jelly bag (again another type of cloth would work) and placed a rubber band on the secure the jelly bag.

I began tasting the sauerkraut on about the third day and by the seventh day I decided it was ready to be moved to the refrigerator. We have been enjoying a couple tablespoons as a side dish with either lunch or dinner usually every other day or so.

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Now I think it is time to start another batch. 🙂

Next up – sour dough bread.

What is your favorite way to eat sauerkraut? Do you eat it raw? Have you ever made your own?

 

 

 

 

Lacto Fermentation – Pickled Garlic

What Is Lacto Fermentation

Simply put Lacto Fermentation is a process that uses salt water also know as brine to ferment vegetables. For a more detailed explanation you can click here. Sauerkraut and pickles are probably the most commonly lacto fermented foods here in the USA. However not all pickles are made using lacto fermentation and although sauerkraut may be made using this process it is often pasteurized (canned) thus killing the probiotics and depleting the nutritional benefits of fementing.

Getting It Right

As I mentioned in my last post I have done some fermenting in the past. Sometimes they turned out good and sometimes they did not, so recently when I was reading about lacto fermentation I was mentally taking notes to see what I may need to do differently.

After reading this article , choosing the right type of salt seemed like something that could be a key to getting it right. In the past I had used either pickling salt or kosher salt. I had thought that they were pure salt and  varied only in texture. I did not realize that they may have anticaking agents added which may effect the fermentation process. It is also worth pointing out that some sea salts may have anticaking agents added.

When we visited our local health food store and I asked the sales person about salt she showed me the three varieties that they carry. They included Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan Pink Salt, and a product called Pure Salt. She told me she had used each of these salts and all of them work great for fermenting foods. I chose Himalayan Pink.

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Water was another concern. I knew that I must use water that was not chlorinated for making the brine but what I had not thought about was the water I was using to clean the vegetables. I had been using our tap water (which is chlorinated) to clean my vegetables and probably killed off some or all of the healthy bacteria that was present. I have since started using filtered water to clean my vegetables.

The last decision I made was to only do small batches. Although I have fermenting crocks, (2 gallon and 5 gallon) for a couple of reasons fermenting in quart and pint size canning jars seems to be a better option. Since it is just my husband and I at home we  are not likely to eat two gallons (or more) worth of sauerkraut (or any other vegetable ferment) before it passes it’s prime. Additionally if I ferment a smaller amount and for some reason it goes bad I only wasted that small amount. Even if I want to do larger amounts it seems wise to use the canning jars as they are easier to store in the refrigerator and I could gift them to family or friends.

My Process

Since we still have some home grown garlic on hand I decided to start with fermenting a jar of garlic. As you can see in the photo above I used a wide mouth pint size canning jar. I (kind of) followed this recipe. I actually had to chuckle when I read their instructions for peeling garlic cloves. If you have been following my blog for a while you probably already know that I highly recommend using these silicone tube garlic peelers.

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I peeled enough garlic to fill my jar leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top. I mixed two tablespoons of Himalayan Pink salt with one quart of non- chlorinated water and stirred it until all of the salt was dissolved. I the poured enough of the salt-water (brine) over the garlic to cover the cloves. Since the garlic cloves floated up and some parts were no longer covered with brine I needed to weigh them down. I had a smaller jar that nested nicely inside the wide mouth jar. Perfect! I then slipped a jelly bag over both jars and secured it with a rubber band to keep fruit flies out. Any clean cloth would have worked for this purpose I just happened to have a jelly bag. I then stored the extra brine in my refrigerator in case I needed to add more or to use for my next batch.

I left the jar of garlic sitting on the counter in the kitchen for about 10 days. I checked it every couple of days, by tasting it, to see if it was ready to be moved to the refrigerator where the fermentation process would be slowed down significantly. I determined it was ready when the garlic had developed a milder and a somewhat sweeter flavor and the brine was infused with the garlic flavor. The cloves had begun to soften but still had some crunch to them. Determining when the vegetables are ready really is subjective – if you like the flavor and texture then they are ready. 🙂 To refrigerate them I removed the jelly bag and small jar. Then I capped them with a regular canning jar lid.

Eating Fermented Garlic

We are now enjoying eating fermented garlic. In fact the jar is more than half gone. It has a pickled garlic flavor. I try to include a couple of cloves in our diet each day. Our home grown garlic has a stronger (hotter) flavor than any garlic that we have found commercially available and even fermented it has retained some of it’s heat. My husband, who will often eat raw cloves of garlic despite tears coming to his eyes as he chews it up, will eat a few whole cloves of the fermented garlic as a side dish with his lunch or dinner. I, on the other hand, prefer to slice the cloves and add them to a salad or a sandwich or throw a few slices on top of my spaghetti. However we decide to eat them it is important to keep them raw in order to reap the benefits of the probiotics.

Next Up

Sauerkraut! I originally planned to include it in this post but since this post is getting long I will dedicate a separate post to sauerkraut.

Have you ever eaten pickled garlic? Do you have a favorite fermented vegetable or recipe you would like to share?