Thursday, September 30, 2010

Foodie Patootie

I was a foodie loooong before the term was popular. I of course blame everyone but myself. Lets start with the dad. Times were tough, money was almost non-existent. So bedtime snacks were often hi-carb, hi-fat. Dad's best culinary feat was the white bread trick. He'd take the entire loaf, toast it ( or sometimes broil it in the oven if the toaster was broken, which meant the top of the bread was near black and the bottom was warm and mushy ) and smear it with whatever fake butter product was available. If it were payday, we'd get that loaf served to us with a jar of generic peanut butter layered on top. Oh baby, oh baby. He'd bring that loaf o' lard into the living room on one big red and orange flowered melamine plate . We'd fight tooth and tail for that Wonderless bread because if you took more than your share your butt would surely get kicked.

Dear old mom played no second fiddle to the king of grub. On her good days she could whip up a HUGE pan of mac and cheese made with all the leftover cheese pieces she could scrape out of the crisper drawer, which by the way, kept absolutely nothing "crisp." She knew how to slosh together American with Cheddar with Swiss with a packet of powdered Kraft cheese (just add milk or in moms case, 1/2 milk, 1/2 water) eons before Paula Deen made it chic.No one could stretch a meal and still maintain its comfort status like my folks.

Now fast forward 40 years to the Spence Farm Foundation Harvest Feast held this past Sunday in rural Fairbury Illinois. Dozens of chefs, local farmers, volunteers, board members and even a few limo low riders traveled near and far to prepare fresh locally grown produce and meat into dishes that even Don and Dusty, the Plain Janes of  "Lets make a Meal," would have savored. Two chefs, Jared Van Camp from Old Town Social , Chicago, and Manny Martinez from Destihl in Bloomington, split one of our Red Wattle hogs in half  (a la King Solomon) and made completely different dishes. From Jareds camp came smoked pork loin, pork belly pastrami, bratwurst and franks with housemade sauerkraut. And in Manny's corner, the Wattle was roasted in this huge wooden box for hours and hours and served with chimichurri sauce, pickled red onion and spice roasted marzen poached pears. Yet another chef, Aric Miech of Mindy's Hot Chocolate, Chicago, did the honor of preparing some of our beef brisket by smoking it over apple wood and then serving it with apples and black pepper on a whole wheat baquette. Man, I just got a serious case of the giggles imagining my dad saying "baquette". I just know he would have said "BAG IT".  I kill me. Aaaaaaanyway...

These three guys and their staff were just a small part of the group of skilled chefs, who managed to prepared dishes that not only tasted great but looked as beautiful as this

Sweet potato and leeks roasted on fragrant hay with black olive cake, molasses and pear

Keith and I ate until ...well we never did stop eating. Jared sent us home with a LARGE bag of sausages, brats and frankfurters which we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. At the end of the evening an auction was held to benefit all the projects the Spence Farm Foundation carries forth each year, such as teaching the art, history and practice of sustainable small family farming across our country. We went home filled with tremendous gratitude for the Spence Farm Foundation who helped us and so many other farmers in so many ways. We were even more grateful for the bounty of food, friends and fun that God has granted us and so many others in our neck of the plains.

Yeah, My name is Donna and I'm a foodie.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Smarter than a homeschooler ?

The answer to that is No. I am not smarter than a homeschooled child. This fact was brought to my attention when a recent "Agri-Tour" was conducted by yours truly. A group of moms and their homeschooled children came to South Pork Ranch to see what it is we do. After telling the kids a bit about our Red Wattle Hog herd, one bright chap named Patrick asked "So regarding these RED they see things in color ? "

Hmmmmm. Sorry chap, I said, I have no clue. He accepted my ignorance quite readily. Perhaps he had been earlier warned about my simpleton ways. The conversations only improved from that point on. "What does castration mean ?" and "If you leave the calf on the mother cow but it only drinks for 30 minutes four times a day, how much milk is left for you to drink with your cereal ?" Now I know who writes those "If train A leaves the station at 10 am and Train B leaves Chatsworth at 10:10 am how long until it derails alongside route 24 ?" type of questions.

Brillant. These kids were brillant. And brave, as not one of them hesitated to try our fresh raw milk. (With informed parental consent of course) One little girl even drank the leftovers of several other kids. Wild little risktaker that one. Oh, one more thing. They were excellent listeners. When I said "everyone go climb on the old tractor for a picture" what do you think they did ?  They did this.

So to all you moms and dads out there who do so much work to educate your children at home, I salute you. And to all you agricultural types out there who complain that kids don't know anything about farms anymore I challenge you to do a few "agri-tours" of your own. The more youth we can send home with milk mustaches and dirty shoes, the better.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book ? What book ?

Yes. I am still working on my book. First draft done. First revision in progress. I started it almost one year ago, in early October 2009. I wrote as able. Some weeks I wrote quite a bit. Other weeks not at all. My mistake was writing AFTER I had done other tasks instead of keeping it a priority. No more. My goal is to work on it every day until the first revision is complete. Then the hard work of finding an agent, a publisher, an editor, a fairy godmother will begin. (Probably not in that order) To keep me motivated I am publishing here for the first time a very small excerpt from my novel. Your thoughts, opinions are very welcome. If I am going to send it out to publishers in the near future I better start working on my thick skin now.

Joey Lowry was running around the far side of his house planning to hide from his new friends, when he heard the neighbors baby crying. He looked around and saw Clares' parents in his back yard. They were sitting in lawn chairs , surrounded by the majority of the neighborhood, eating the burgers and potato salad his parents had made for the block party. The baby's cries got louder. Having been at the Sullivans so much lately he felt comfortable going into their home.  As he entered the kitchen Clare's cries escalated. Joey covered his ears but continued walking towards the babies room. He liked little Clare with her pale pink face and her tiny fingers. He especially liked the way she would wrap her fingers around his. It made him feel big and he always wanted to be a big brother. On rare occasions he could make Clare stop crying by making goofy noises and funny faces but most of the time she just cried anyway. He asked his mother for a baby sister like Clare but she said it was too late for that. Joey didn't understand what being late had to do with him getting a baby sister.

He continued to walk down the hall of the modest track home and into Clare's room. She was lying face down in her crib, hands clenched tight., her neck and ears bright red with the effort she was making to lift her head off the mattress. He reached through the wooden crib bars and patted her diapered bottom like he had seen Clare's mother do. The two month old infant continued to scream. He turned around and walked back into the hall, "Mrs Sullivan ! Mrs Sullivan, your baby is crying !" He waited but no one answered so he walked back into Clare's room. He felt so sorry for her. She was so sad and crying so hard. Then Joey had an idea. He could bring the baby to its mother ! He tried to reach over the crib but his arms were too short, so he pulled a chair up close to her . He climbed up on it , reached into the crib and pulled Clare out. He struggled with her weight and almost dropped her. He readjusted her on his shoulder and then carefully climbed off the chair. The baby, frightened with the recent rough movements of the well intentioned five year old, reached a fever pitch with her screams.

He walked out of the room and down the hall with her. When he got into the kitchen he started running. He had to get this baby to its mommy now ! As he came through the kitchen his foot caught on one of the legs of the kitchen table causing him to lose his balance. The kindergartner held tight to Clare trying very hard not to drop her but he was too far off balance, he fell forward with Clare still in his arms. He hit the kitchen floor hard and Clare rolled out of his grasp. Even though he had the wind knocked out of him he tried desperately to reach her, to pull her back to him but she was out of his reach . Clares little body rolled over once completely and then she disappeared, tumbling down the narrow steps leading to the basement. She rolled over and over down the wooden steps, arms and legs flailing, stopping only when her fragile head connected with the ungiving concrete basement floor. Her crying abruptly stopped.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Preschool at Yaya's

I love Mondays and Tuesdays best. Those are grandchildren days. Three year old Wesley is with me all day and we do the usual grandma stuff like bake cookies, take long walks, read stories and deliver dead pigs to chefs.

Today Wes and I took 1/2 of a Red Wattle hog to Manny at Desthil Restaurant in Normal, Illinois.  Manny is one of the 10 expert chefs who will be preparing food for the Harvest Feast at Spence Farms in Fairbury this Sunday. Where is the other 1/2 of that pig you astute people might ask ? Well, it went to Jared VanCamp at Old Town Social in Chicago. He is another of the fine chefs preparing great dishes for the Feast. We can't wait to see all the different dishes these guys are going to present to  a very large rural crowd in just a few days.

Back to Manny. A gentleman with a big smile who took a few seconds out of his busy day to greet  a three year old AND THEN took even more time to show him the really COOL walk- in refrigerator. Our killed and chiiled hog just laid there pretending not to be impressed, but we were.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Greetings Don Juan !

I've been looking forward to this day for a couple of weeks. Why ? I'll tell you why. Today marks the 20th anniversary of me da's death. This does not really make me sad. Sure I miss him and his goofball ways, but he is in a good place now and I believe wholeheartedly I'll see him again one day. So today I plan to spend time just remembering him and his uh...musical abilities among his other attributes.

My father loved to sing. Loudly. In the house, in the car, on the bus and most mass. He imagined himself to be Pavarotti with his "swing loooow, sweet chariot" renditions.  We kids cringed in the pews, embarassed AGAIN.  Funny guy my dad. The more we were appalled by what he did, the more he would do it. His voice getting deeper and lower and more dramatic. You would think we'd have caught on but we OShaughnessy kids weren't the brightest peat bricks in the bog.

He also loved to play instruments. OK, one instrument. The Worlds Smallest Record Player. See my demonstration below.

When we whined too much about an unfair deed or physical malady like a splinter in the foot, he'd pull out this special item. By rotating his thumb in a circular fashion over the top of his fist he created the World's Smallest Record Player, and play for us the always dreaded "My heart cries for you" melody. It was his way of saying "Get Over It !" We all knew this song was the precussor to his other world famous rendition of "I'll Give You Something To Cry For" which he would bring forth if he felt we lingered too long in the "Pity Party" phase.

Its not that dad wouldn't allow us to feel sad about something. He had a big heart to go with his big smile, but we weren't often allowed to drag the woe is me stuff out for too long. He would hug us, kiss us and then give us a push, a pat on the bottom and the ever famous "go on now, write when you get work." advice.

Advice. He loved to give advice on life. To his family, his co-workers, the man in the elevator. He'd start off his little lectures with "When one....(fill in the blank) does (fill in the blank) one should (fill in the blank)" Which is why the inner circles of our family would refer to him as Don One or later Don Juan.

The picture above was taken on his wedding day to our mom Thelma Lucille Durham. By the looks on their faces its obvious they liked the cool car they were in. OK, they also seemd to really like each other. Life however, was not always something to smile about. They struggled with money, wild teens, (my little sisters were such HOODLUMS), money ,a chronically ill child, money etc etc..but my dad retained his sense of humor 90% of the time. He was no saint, but he did quite well with the gifts given him doing so much better than the generations before him.

Yeah dad. We all miss you. You and your stinkin' little record player.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Organic Smorganic Year 2

Its all over...

Our second organic inspection is complete and we have survived. Mostly Keith has survived his wifes  nagging about "write it down !" and "where is the date ?" and "I need a tag for that seed pulleeese !" and of course his favorite "You can't use that, its not approved."  The fact hat I was taking about his donuts from Daves makes it even more irritating I am sure. The facts are, obtaining and keeping organic certification is not easy, nor should it be. But on the other hand it does not have to be as painful as I make it out to be either.

As with any government program , paperwork is required. Lots of paperwork. Keith and I follow the National Organic Progarm Standards all year but sometimes get behind on the paperwork, the reciepts, the tags , the proof of certification from those who supply us with grain and hay and soon even straw. Yes, straw. Soon all straw used on certified organic farms will have to certified organic as well since animals do have a tendency to snack on their bedding. Not that I am above that. I've dropped a few really good cookie crumbs in the bed  that I did not want to see go to waste. I wasn't going to let some silly pillow case get between me and my Oreos. Stop frowning. I always drink the non-organic Oreos with organic milk. But I digress.

I will say this about organic surveyors...or at least the ones we've had from MOSA. They are reasonable. logical, practical, sensible, (Wait, that was the rock and roll surveyor from Supertramp...never mind). Back to MOSA. Our survey was evenly split between paperwork and outside work. Our surveyor spent time walking the farm and actually LOOKING at the animals. Proof is in the pudding.

So with another year of organic production behind us I am once more committed to keeping up with all the documention in order to avoid the last minute hoopla of ripping through files and piles on desks, barn walls, floors and more in order to find the organic molasses receipt from July 2009. It was stuck to the bottom of one of the grandkids Dora plates. Must've been that time we ran out of syrup for the pancakes and substituted a little sweetness from that huge molasses tote in the machine shed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Power to the Farmer

Grand daughter Allana demonstrates how Keith and I felt last night when we took a little time from working to evaluate and assess some of that same work. Specifically we were looking at raw milk sales. If you recall we've always sold raw milk to customers who wanted it, in addition to selling it conventionally. It was only a handful of people a year ago. Milk prices went up and down and then down again and down some more. At one point we were receiving only $9 for every ONE HUNDRED GALLONS OF MILK we produced. Our expenses however ,increased steadily each year as prices of hay and grain increased.

So we shifted gears and began selling more raw milk direct to the consumer who came to us with thier glass container in hand and in coolers. Our conventional buyer Foremost, disapproved even though it is legal to sell raw milk in Illinois. They told us to stop. We told them to take a flying leap. We broke up. Rings were returned.

Now it is 5 months later. We sell all our certified organic milk directly to the consumer. "ALL" at this point ranges between 1/3 and 1/2 of what we produce. The rest is fed to our pig crop. They love it. Keith often finds a queue of swine outside the milk house each morning, wrapped in their sleeping bags, listening to their I-Pigs just wating for the milk heaven to open its doors. They slurp up the leftover milk as fast as Keith can give

slop it to them in the aged yoghurt like consitency it becomes after letting it stew a day or too. Yum and Yum.

This fantastic whole milk converts into one tasty hog. (They also get hay and grass and grain as no one can survive on gastric joy alone. Just ask Mama Cass) We cannot keep up with either the restaurant or private customer demand for our milk fed pork. We are beyond grateful for this problem.

And oh yeah, when we calculated our income for milk sold directly to customers it comes to $46 per HUNDRED WEIGHT A decent price for a decent amount of hard work. Still far less than what the customer would have to pay for organic milk in the store and still far more than what these two farmers used to get paid for the same amount of work on the conventional market. Power to the farmer.

P.S. Later this week we will be calculating expenses. This blog article may be recalled at that time. Print a copy while you can.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thanks a Million !

In Ireland they say "Thanks a million" for small deeds done. Not just "Thank you" but "Thanks a MILLION" Thats the Irish for you, always on the dramatic side. Influence of Yeats etc... Lately though, "Thanks a Million" has been ringing in my head loud and clear. So many kindnesses lately from so many people.

First and foremeost our own kids who keep doing so much to help us stay on top of all the farm activites. Working hours upon hours to finish our farm store for its not -all -that -grand- opening in October. Thanks a million !

Then, there was neighbor JD who took the time to write the best little card I have gotten in a very long time. Telling me how she enjoyed my blog and how she wished Keith and I best of luck regarding my leaving nursing and turning to farming full time. Thanks a million J !!

Then an old HS friend of Keiths took the time to come visit with his wife. A long drive for them to reach out to an old friend to reconnect and say hello. To share old memories and hopefully create some new ones. Thanks a million BG !

And yesterday a third cousin of mine (or was it fourth ? twelth ? ) made the trip from Tinley Park with his wife. He had contacted me awhile ago about the geneology of our family. He wanted to share data and stories we both had  collected. What he had amassed over the years was amazing but the most heart tugging pieces of papers were produced when he showed me my grandmother Josephine O'Shaughnessy's original book of poetry, all written by her in the late 50's and early 1960's. The one she used to read to me when I was 6. I was shocked when I saw it and then tearful. I thought it had been lost forever. Soon my 8th cousin removed 6 times will be sending me a copy of this book. THANKS A MILLION RC !!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An Irish Ass

Doolin, named after my favorite wee village on the west coast of Ireland, is always a big pain in my ...donkey. Whenever I am working with the horses, he insists on getting in the middle of things. If I leave a halter or brush on the ground, he picks it up in his mouth and carries it to the far side of the pasture. Like a toddler, if I follow after him , he runs from me shaking the desired object back and forth , sometimes slinging it into the tall grass. Then he will sit back on his haunches and brey at me while I look high and low for the lost object.

I can yell at him, threaten him with incarceration, it makes no difference. Doolin is one bad donkey. Most of this naughty behavior is tolerable but when he starts in with my footwear...I draw the line.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Store Must Go On

Our farm store continues to evolve into a real store and not just a cute shell. Grand opening will be sometime in October, exact date not yet known. So far the inside electrical work is completed (Thank you number one son), the insulation is installed and inside walls are being secured (Thank you number two son). Today son number three is going to continue working on inside walls while wife picks out paint at the local Menards. "Local" for us is 60 minutes away but gives husband and wife an excuse for a field trip.

Keith was forced into creativity as far as positioning goes, in order to secure plywood walls to the ceiling of our farm store from the loft. First approaching the task from underneath...
And then from up above...

And people think I'm the goofy one this relationship.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Technical difficuktties, uh defiikultys,

Having some troubles with my blog. Working on it. Stay tuned. Over and out big buddy , hammer down something something.