Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Holly Days!

Homemade mayo tossed with smoked trout, lemon juice and capers spread on toasted seedy loaf.
Pan-seared venison loin with vermouth and cream sauce.
Swiss chard carmelized with garlic, olive oil, raisins, hazelnuts and balsamic vinegar.
Buttered spaghetti squash with loads of butter, salt and pepper.
Cheap, but not too cheap Cotes de Rhone.

Hugs. Shared tears over sorrows. Talk of story, literature, food. Memories. Coffee drinking. Deer butchering. Turkey butchering. Pumpkin pureeing. Errand running. Time to say goodbye before we are ready. Thankful for friends like Holly.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Afternoons

I love Sunday afternoons, even on days we don't have Sunday dinner. This morning we had an all-church brunch, so I told the kids that counted for lunch. I imagine they are very hungry, but it was nice to take a break from cooking. We made a big pan of bread pudding with cream, butter, eggs, cinnamon, maple syrup and wineberries. It was yummy.

Things are looking very Novembery around here. I love the grays and browns and wheat colored frost-bitten grass. There was a heavy frost this morning but that didn't stop the ducks from taking their morning constitutional swim. The turtles must be hibernating in the mud.

This afternoon we did some cleanup chores before Philip and the kids headed back into town for youth group activities. That gave me the freedom to turn up my favorite tunes, sweep floors, fold clothes and drink green tea. I lit a fire in the fireplace and woodstove to take off the chill.

Holly is coming for a quick holiday visit. What a treat for us. She is coming in perfect timing! A neighbor brought over a deer so tomorrow the boys will skin it and I imagine Holly will help me process it. Tuesday is turkey processing day. No matter how busy we are, with Holly around I can always count on good food coming out of the kitchen. Maybe she will make pie crusts with the girls...

Better go enjoy a few moments of peace in front of the fireplace before everyone gets home.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One of the Costs of Farming

I love Virginia. I love our farm.

I hope we can live here for ever and ever and ever, amen.

All that said, as I spent a few moments yesterday afternoon in the middle of my busy day sitting out on the deck with the little girls, I tried to figure out why I felt so sad. I was discombobulated by minor annoyances, but there was something that seemed to cut just a little bit deeper.

Guess it hit me that I am very very homesick right now.

Full Circle Farm is our home and when I am away I feel an ache, so it isn't like I am unhappy. But it has been a very long time since our family has had the opportunity to go to Texas to visit. I suppose it was three years ago Thanksgiving that the kids and I last went together. Three years ago Nora was three. Thomas was thirteen. Patrick was ten. Maggie was nine. Rose was six.

I have been aching to sit on the deck of my parents' house and soak in the dry arid air. Look at the scrubby mesquite trees and cactus and live oaks and let Mom and Daddy cook for us. Go see my sister and nephew in Austin and eat Texican food. Listen to familiar old accents. Take the kids around and show them where I grew up. Show them where they were born. Let them see the expanse of it all.

One of these days we will get down there. I am not worried about it. But there is an ache.

If you wish to farm full time and raise your meat and dairy, it is important to count the costs. There are only so many days one can be away from all those animals. It is quite hard for the entire family to be away from the farm for more than a day or so because of all the varied chores that must be done. Trips have to be quick snatches, a couple of people at a time.

Would I change our life? Trade the milking, the midnight hay hauling, the weed pulling, the chicken butchering for the freedom to travel anytime I wanted?

Not on your life.

This is right where I want to be.

But holiday time is when I start to feel a little bit teary. So, pardon my sentimental homesick blues. I miss my family!

All that said, let me tell you, I count my blessings to have met so many wonderful friends here in our community. We do have a family network that pulls together and treats us dearly. Don't think I could manage if we didn't. So grateful for our friends and loved ones here in the valley who make us happy to live here and hopeful to never leave. And grateful for the sound of the stream, the breeze in the trees, the creaky old house, the cozy chattering of the turkeys and other farm animals whose evening murmurings tuck me in at night.

So hopefully, before too many moons pass, I hope you will be reading a blog all about our visit to the Lone Star state! In the meantime, I will continue to count my blessings.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Day Does Not Match My Mood

It is a gorgeous day today. When I arose at 3 something this morning I peeked out the window. The sky truly did look like a length of dark blue velvet scattered with diamonds. A brisk breeze kicked up, promising to kick the rain out. It worked.

Work started out fine, but some paperwork and phone calls have gotten me completely discombobulated. I feel like giving up. Grrr. I think I am rebelling. The sunshine and warm is telling me that it is morally wrong to be stuck in the house trying to bake and do miserable paperwork and deal with annoying phone calls. Not that I hate phone calls, just annoyed by unnecessary ones.

I am pausing to clear my head and figure out what is absolutely necessary to accomplish today. I have such high expectations of myself in regards to productivity sometimes. Perhaps I need to be still, have a cup of coffee in the sunshine, encourage the kids to take a 30 minute break with me and share a chapter in the book we are reading out loud. Maybe we will get refocused and reenergized after a little recreation.

BTW, I think the forsythia bush is confused. There are a few blossoms coming out on its bare twiggy arms. What? Did someone not get the message that spring won't be here for many many months? Maybe she is an overachiever??? Just listen to me, Forsythia, it is TIME. Give it a rest. You will be much more energized come springtime, but for now, how about a nap.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fall is fleeting.

I am certainly glad we took advantage of the sunshine the other days. Gray has set in with a vengeance. It feels like snow, even though it is too warm and no snow is in the forecast. The golden willow leaves reluctantly let go and let themselves be carried off in the breeze. The rest of the trees figured out days and weeks ago that it was futile to try to hold on.

This morning I enjoyed the carefully choreographed dance of the ducks on the pond. Brown rouens and white pekins formed a circle, bobbing and dipping, stretching their glorious wings. I was quite entertained.

We enjoyed our homeschool coop today. At one moment I saw Rose and Sophie running in the field holding almost 3 yr old Mec by the hands. They were smiling and free. I love homeschooling. We decided that next week for coop we will cover biology. The kids will come join us as we butcher some turkeys and roosters. That should be an interesting lesson!

It is just 5 o clock, the rooster is simmering, butternut squash awaits braising, and broccoli awaits steaming. It is almost dark. Kids are reading books, practicing piano and singing with their cassette player. I believe Thomas is working on a sword he is carving out of wood. A moment of peace before we jump into the frantic get ready for the Bible study ladies pace!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't forget to take your Vitamin D!

A couple of Sundays a month we have an organic church service here on the farm with some other folks. This morning I milked the goats, the kids took care of the other chores then we prepared for our service. Part of preparation was putting the soaked beans on to cook. We feel that worshiping God involves community living so part of our act of worship is sharing a meal together after sharing the eucharist together. Just like regular church we sing hymns, read scripture, pray and hear Philip share a sermon, but it all takes place in our living room since we are not finished with converting the tractor shed into our chapel.

Then we move to the kitchen, fix a meal and share it with our friends.

Today the sun was shining so brightly we had to set up our pinto beans with garlic, onions and kale and our rice and fresh bread out on the deck. Our eyes hurt from squinting in the bright light, yet we felt obligated to soak in the rays. Our newest little church member, 2 week old baby Samuel, was especially cozy.

I thank God for folks who want to share life together with us, the ups, the downs, the spiritual, the nitty-gritty, the feasts and the famines.

And I thank God for the sunshine. It felt so good on my skin and bones. Soon we will be huddled in front of the fire. But now we listen to the flooded pond and rushing stream and can hardly remember the rain as we revel in sunshine.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Local Food is Good

We are now enjoying a scaled down version of the market for the rest of the winter. We take orders and show up at Ikenberry's and Grandin middle of the morning to drop off breads and meats. I hope the bread sales will remain steady over the winter as we depend on all that great business. Every week I am rather amazed at the generous support of our customers. Amazed and grateful.

Today I bartered some granola and breads and pizza crusts for some more of our favorite trout.

Philip and most of the kids went bowling this evening with a church group but Patrick, my market salesman, and I were tired from all the social interaction. We stayed home. I went to the garden, ogled the turkeys, then picked us a nice bunch of colorful lettuce. Patrick brought up some potatoes from the basement. We cubed up some seedy loaf and Patrick made croutons. He also fried up the potatoes. I ground up some almonds and garlic and made a crust for the trout fillets. We cooked them in a heavy skillet, tossed the salad with some french vinaigrette, added the croutons, and served our plates. Patrick lit the candles in the dining room (thanks, Stewart!) and we put on music and dined.

What delicious local food. So simple. We chatted as we worked and in moments our dinner was complete. Patrick spoke about how he used to hate fish and how now he loves it. He and I marveled at the delightful way the nutty trout interacted with the creamy potatoes and tart salad. We cleared our plates and felt very happy we spent the extra time to make dinner for the two of us. It was a very nice date. We missed Philip and the other kids, but I am certain they are having a blast. They will get their turn some other night. But tonight it was nice sharing a meal and barn chores with Patrick. He is my partner and I truly appreciate his hard work selling for me on the weekends while many of his peers are still in bed or watching tv or playing computer games.

I hope everyone out there can find some locally grown food. Cook it up. You won't regret it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Wednesday was my birthday and I was flooded with warm wishes. I even got a call from a dear college friend who lives in the far northwest. What a treat.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted for my birthday. Birthdays can be a drag for me, not because of fear of growing old. That doesn't bother me. Yet. For some reason I tend to fall into a funk around my birthday and feel miserable. Not because of anything people do or don't do. Some weird internal thing.

So the last few years I have prayed asking for divine help to know what I want so I can be satisfied and content instead of hungry for some intangible, indefinite something out there.

One of the things that helps is to go out of the house early in the morning, carrying a canvas bag of a collection of my old journals. Early Wed. morning I got a cup of coffee, drove to a lonely spot along the creek on Dutch Oven Rd and watched the swelling stream roll along, thick like soup with leaves and debris. I savored the dark warm coffee and strolled along through a few years of my past. I settled in around seven years ago. That was when we were living in the aftermath of the illness and death of Philip's mom and dad. We moved from our community, church, neighborhood and friends in Fort Worth, Texas, to northern NJ. The lined up job fell through. I got pregnant with Nora. Thomas was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The kids were in public school for the first time. We learned all about IEP's and estates, and grief. Since the job fell through, Philip did all the restoration work on his dad's house. We developed new community ties. We made new friends and new church family. I started to teach cooking classes and to cater a little bit on the side. I had forgotten how hard it was, but reading through some of my tears and joys were a great reminder. At one point I wrote down a scripture from Habakuk 2:3 Here it is in the English Standard Version"

"For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end--it will not lie.
If is seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay."

At the time I read that scripture the children and I had had enough of public school, suburbia and really wished to live on a farm. There were lots of farms in the beautiful area of northern NJ where we lived. The problem was they sold for millions of dollars. When that scripture came across my path I felt like it was a message written directly to me. I had a very fuzzy vison, a dream that there was something for our family, something out there. Those words gave me comfort.

Rereading them in my journal brought a smile to my face. Two years later we sold our house in NJ and moved to the farm. Our dream come true. The two years of waiting were crucial. We learned many things during that era. After a mountain of difficult painful circumstances we reached a very raw state, saw an amazing, truly gifted therapist, and gained skills that have helped us, if not everyday, every week. Doing home restoration of Philip's dad's old house was terrific practice for us as we did most of the work on this house ourselves. We developed friendships in our community that are still vital to us.

So, anyway, that time of reading by the flooded stream was a great gift to me.

When I got home, the girls had made us some amazing scones for breakfast. We then spent the day beautifying the house. I wanted to have a dusted, mopped house for my birthday and the kids worked very hard to give that to me.

Last year I didn't want to cook for my birthday. This year I did.

We invited three of my dearest area friends and their husbands for dinner. One brought cheese, wine and lots and lots of tapered candles. Another brought wine and more cheese. (Do these friends know me or what?) Another brought more wine (boy, are we ever stocked!!!) and a book she found written by none other than our dear Rachel Banks' grandpa, a physician who practiced back in the day in West Virginia.

I wanted a locally grown feast for my birthday, shared with dear friends by candlelight, with blazing fireplace and that is exactly what I got! The children made place cards by decorating leaves. Thomas picked many of the remaining roses for our decorations. We pulled out all the fancy silverware and the fancy plates and fancy cups. We baked fresh bread. Patrick and Maggie and Rose braved the rain to pick fresh salad greens. Nora shared her chocolate with me. (to give me strength for the efforts) I pan-seared duck breasts (from our farm, of course), glazed them with plum jam and vermouth. Made a salad with the greens, toasted hazelnuts, stilton and wineberries we had frozen from summer. Tossed it all with balsamic vinegar and topped it with the slices of duck.

After the salad we had grass-finished beef tenderloin, seared in butter, topped with homemade hollandaise, brilliant with our free-range egg yolks. It was accompanied by our little baby potatoes, boiled slightly in salted water then crisped in duck fat we rendered earlier in the day. Garlicky broccoli rounded out the meal.

To finish it all off, we enjoyed a three layer whole wheat pound cake, baked by Patrick and decorated by the girls. Surrounded by friends, I felt incredibly blessed. Satisfied completely by the abundance we were able to share with our friends.

It was just what I wanted. Anything else was just an embarrassment of riches. What a gift to be able to live here on our farm, in an amazingly beautiful part of the country, healthy and able to raise much of our own food. A family with some rough spots here and there, but very close. We love each other very much. Sometimes the feast is fancy fancy, sometimes it is hard hard work and beans and cornbread. I hope that I will remember to be grateful for it all.

Next morning, it was back to reality. Hurricane Ida blew a lot of water our way. After over two days of heavy, consistent rain, we were flooded. The pond flooded. The basement flooded. The turkeys in their tractor were up to their ankles in mud. Piggies were happily swimming in a small pond in what used to be their nice grassy section of the garden. I put on my nice new locally grown wool socks, Philip's work boots, and in pajamas we moved animals to higher ground. They were happy. The pigs are now temporarily living in the old chicken yard. They have almost plowed up the whole area. Amazing. I had been wishing that Philip or the kids would till that zone so we could reseed. Thanks to the flood, the pigs are doing that job for us. One of the turkeys didn't survive the wet spell, but that's okay. We are thankful that most of them did. I feel like the farmer's wife in Babe, rubbing her hands together, surveying her future holiday meal. "Yep, you guys are looking great. Just about ready to be stuffed with sage and garlic. Yummm, yumm, yum." They don't seem very concerned.

So thanks for letting me share my memories of a wonderful day. There were many more sweet moments, l could go on and on. But for now, let me say that I am satisfied, content and grateful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here
And on the ships at sea.
RL Stevenson 1885

We waited days for the rain to come. It was so weirdly warm yesterday. Heavy. It was a relief when the drops began to fall this afternoon, even if the laundry was not completely dry.

Yesterday we moved the chicks out to a little room in the barn. They have their heat lamp, food and water. Chicks can only live in the living room so many days. They stink. They peep. They poop a lot. We only had 50 this go around and it was easier to just set up the brooder in the house so I didn't have to go check on them so often. Laziness, I guess. Plus it is kind of fun to watch little fluff balls for a day or two.

They are happy in the barn. I am happier too. So is Maggie since she is in charge of living room maintenance this week.

The turkeys got out and ate every last bit of the broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. They also trimmed off the tops of all the onions and turnips. For some reason they didn't like the lolla rossa lettuce or the tom thumb butterhead.

So glad we could grow them such lovely organic food!

Patrick was very frustrated and sad because he was the one who planted those things for our fall garden. The vegetables were big and lovely and now they are gone.

We seem to have a problem with fall garden maintenance. One year the cattle ate the broccoli and other brassicas. The next two years it was the goats. This year we were so proud for keeping the four-legged creatures out of the garden. We were so excited to have wonderful veggies for the fall.

Thank goodness we are not like the folks who lived during the Little House on the Prairie days. We will not go hungry. We have lots of other foods stored up.

But I am sad for Patrick. That type of loss is a sad one. I am afraid it is the kind of loss that often happens in life and as he gets a chance to deal with his frustration and get over it, I am thankful for the training he is getting for adulthood. Things occasionally go wrong, people make mistakes, and sometimes they cost more than we wish. So we growl, put the silly birds back in their place, (or goats, or cattle or whatever else happens to destroy our hard work) and come up with a plan for next time. And give thanks for those other people who were able to successfully grow broccoli so we don't have to go without!

At least we have salad!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rise and Shine

I love waking up to morning farm sounds.

Turkey gobble.
Rooster crow.
Duck quack.
Goose honk.
Guinea squawk.
Bird cries, which are quickly silenced by the shrill whistle of kettle and the bzzzzz of the coffee grinder as Philip makes our french press full of thick, dark fragrant ritual.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brownie and Blackie's Haiku , or "Let's Hear it for Farm Security!"

Defensive dogs howl
Their cries echo through the valley:
"Stay 'way from our farm!"

Friday, November 6, 2009

More New Friends

I know this is a crazy time to be getting baby chicks. We typically order our last batch of meat chicks end of September to butcher early December. This last of September I didn't have it in me to do one more thing. So I procrastinated. I thought maybe we could get away without raising anymore, hoped we could ration our frozen chicken. Once I did the math and considered the truly cold period of February and early March I decided we better raise a few more to put on the table. Our family likes to eat at least one chicken a week. I would hate to have to go two or three months without chicken, so here we are again.

The chicks were hatched out on Tuesday and arrived yesterday at 10pm. Philip went to the main Roanoke post office to pick them up. We set the "brooder" trough next to the fireplace, gave them food and water and now we watch them grow.

Our plan is to cover a large cage by the milking parlor with heavy duty plastic. We intend to convert the large space into a sort of a green house. If we seed the ground with rye and other cold weather grass seed it should be up and green by the time the chicks are ready to go out. Of course we realize that this is an untested plan and time will tell if it works or not. Will keep you posted. In the meantime, we are feeding the little fellows a mixture of non-GMO grains blended together with some bits of fresh trout trimmings and a little goat milk. We are trying to boost the protein content in their food with fresh ingredients we have on hand. Most high protein poultry food has dried fish meal. We thought it would be interesting to see if there is any difference in the chickens raised on the fresh fish. Hopefully the wind will die down tomorrow and the guys can get the greenhouse finished.

I only baked 6 loaves of bread today. Just enough to barter for some of Jimbo's fresh trout fillets. We had some for supper tonight, fried up in a pan with a little butter. We had some pan-fried potatoes on the side. Yum. Patrick informed me that next year we must plant at least as many potatoes as we did this year, or even more. He has become the master hashbrown maker with all those potatoes. Good thing we get a lot of exercise, eating all those potatoes! I could have gone to the garden to pick enough lettuce to make a salad, but decided to do that tomorrow. We have eaten so many greens this week, thanks to different gifts from different friends of chard, bok choy, collards cabbage and kale. I love them all. Quite pleased that Patrick and Maggie and Rose planted lettuce this fall. We should be enjoying if for a bit.

Kids and parents are tired here on the farm. I think we will all go to our separate corners and read. Philip and Rose just came in from hunting coyotes. Hopefully they scared off the wiley critters and we will get some peace this evening.

By the way, now that I am no longer milking at night I am missing out on night sky, the moon phases, the stars and the breezy night sounds. It is hard to make myself go outside if I don't have to.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Welcome to November

Monday morning we headed over to our fellow farming friends' place to help wrangle calves. They needed some manpower to get the critters separated and loaded and we needed to buy a couple of calves. Yesterday evening I felt some sore muscles and wondered what in the world I had done to get them. The girls reminded me that day before we used those muscles to get calves away from mamas and to shove those calves onto a trailer. It was a beautiful day, sunny and brisk, and the hard teamwork felt great. I know it may sound weird, but I really love doing that kind of work. The real bonus was the lunch our friend served, roast beef sandwiches on rye, cheese, her homegrown tomatoes, and some of the most amazing homemade jalapeno apricot jam I have ever tasted. I ate some of it spread on jack cheese, some of it on her homemade pumpkin bread with cream cheese, some of it straight off the spoon. Wow. I am quite thankful for this friends' apricot tree, jalapenos and her amazing talent to put them together.

After another cup of coffee, more bread and cheese, we loaded up a very handsome bull calf for me and another even more adorable bull calf for Maggie. I named my fellow Ribeye, for obvious reasons. Maggie's calf is named Panda, because his little black and white Hereford and Dexter cross face looks just like a panda.

As we headed home the girls noticed that the autumn olives looked ripe. We drive past a big stand of them on the way home. I hesitated. The last thing on my agenda that day was picking autumn olives. But I stopped anyway, we grabbed bags and boxes, whatever we had stashed in the Suburban, parked in the shade and went to pick.

Autumn olives are a large shrub or smallish tree otherwise known as Eleagnus Umbellata. The leaves are silvery and shaped like olive leaves. The berry is red, dusted with silver speckles. They are tart, tart, tart until just ripe, then the flavor is a bit more sweet. The tree is native to Asia. Apparently it was introduced to the US in thee 1800s, used to prevent soil erosion alongside roads. Well, like many plants transplanted back in those days, it is very invasive. I can't recommend anyone buying and planting this tree, but just like wineberries, another Asian import, I highly recommend wild foraging!

Studies have found that the autumn olive berry has 17 times more lycopene than the average raw tomato! The juice is a powerful antioxident, full of vitamins A, C, E, fatty acids and flavenoids. Cool.

The kids just think the sweet-tart fruit is fun to pop in their mouth, and anything picked by our hands, in the wild, on a bright sunny fall day just has to be good for us! We picked and picked, around a gallon and a half or two gallons of the fruit. I have rinsed them and guess I will make jam or fruit leather. Am thinking that the flavor would make an amazing sauce for venison or pork roast. Hmmm. Maybe I should boil down the juice, add some juniper berries, rosemary and black pepper to make a reduction for the venison tenderloin I hope someone hunts for us.

So we got home with calves and berries, unloaded them both, along with the amazing veggie gifts from our farmer friend. Maggie and I cleaned the barn and visited with the new fellas. They miss their mamas. But not so much that they didn't immediately get down to the serious business of munching on hay.

Later I fried up round steak, Nora mixed up cornbread, we made sweet potato oven fries, and we sauteed the swiss chard gift with lard and cracklins. Philip and Thomas moved the four little piggies into a new section of garden. Patrick moved the turkeys onto fresh grass. We enjoyed a family supper together and didn't feel a bit sore. Until yesterday.

Welcome to your new home, Ribeye and Panda. We hope you quickly bond to the herd and enjoy your life, munching on good hay and grass, wandering through nice fields. We sure are thankful to have been able to get you from a nice farm instead of a factory operation. You will have a very good life.