Monday, February 28, 2011

Stop and Smell The Garlic -William Shatner

And a few more,

          “What garlic is to food, insanity is to art.”
                              Augustus Saint-Gaudens quotes

          A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat”
                            Proverb quotes

            England and the English.   As a rule they will refuse even to sample a foreign dish, they regard  such things as garlic and olive oil with disgust, life is unlivable to them unless they have tea and puddings”
                                      George Orwell quotes (English Novelist)

           “Following the Jewish tradition, a dispenser of schmaltz (liquid chicken fat) is kept on the  table to  give the vampires heartburn if they get through the garlic defense.”
                            Calvin Trillin quotes (American Writer, b.1935

Yeah, Garlic is the topicof late  in this Midlife Farmwifes home. As we continue to learn about organic treatments for dairy cows, beef and hogs, we continue to be surprised. Recently we discovered through  the world-wide-spider-web- that -sucks- you- in -and -rarely- lets- go, that garlic is an excellent livestock wormer. Its true, many parasitologist's say so. (No, not  Dr. Ross Geller you goof, everyone knows he was a lyricist, not a parasitologist. Did you not see the synthesizer episode ?)

That reference to Dr Geller is made with specific deference to one shall be unnamed oldest son who is the next in my tribe to turn 30, the same son who recently tried to tell me I could not be in the real   Friends  fan club because I made a derogatory statement about Ross. But listen up sonny boy. this is my blog and I can mock any over grown pseudo professor who thinks being  "on a break"  gives him license to play around with another woman, if I so choose.

Oh wait. A flashback. Not mine but my Aunt Bernie's. Anyone can have their own flashbacks, I sometimes help out the elderly by channeling their flashbacks for them. It was 1950 or so and her sister Mary was cooking supper when her mother, my grandmother, Josephine came into the kitchen. She was mad, she was hopping mad, because she smelled garlic. Finding the source in a pan of beef she yanked it off the stove, marched to the back door and flung the pan out into the back yard. She then announced to her daughter Mary, "don't you ever EVER bring that stuff into my home again !"  And no one ever did.

It was that very story that ran itself around in my head a couple of days ago as I measured the organic garlic powder out of the one pound bulk bags into the small Glad bags which jolts me right now into another flashback. In the 1970's I  heard about kids who would buy marijuana in plastic bags called "Baggies". So did they later get called "Glad" bags because of the happy merchandise being sold in them during the Moody Blues Era or were they called "Glad" bags first which made it even more logical to package the mood altering drug in them VS borrowing some of your  mothers burping Tupperware containers. If that had caught on  then I guess we'd have grown up driving around endlessly trying to score  a $5 "burpies"

Have mentioned yet that I was up late last night meeting a grant application outline and therefore slept little ?
Have mentioned yet that I was up late last night meeting a grant application outline and therefore slept little ?

Oh, I'm sorry I did not see you raise your hand.
Yes, the garlic. We bought some, we measured it out based on hog weight, we smelled it all over the house,
we fed it for a week and now we wait and see and re-treat if necessary. If it works on the grandkids we'll try it on the swine. We also read somewhere that it is possible and quite cheap to buy an inexpensive microscope and  a few slides, smear some hog manure on the slide and check for some charming Metastrongylus and his friend Sir Strongyloides on our own.
And you people wonder why I like making soap?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An uphill climb

My husband gave me a great gift today, the gift of  being abandoned. Not forever, just a few hours. Yesterday we took off for Turkey Run Lodge in Indiana, about a 3 hr drive from our farm in Central Illinois. Our primary goal ? To get off the farm, to stop working on the farm, to stop talking about the farm, to stop talking about other peoples farms. With son Jason at the helm we left after morning chores and arrived here just before supper time. This morning after breakfast Keith went walking on the twooded trails and I got busy...on my book.

Yes, the same book I have been working on for 16 months. It has been moved to the back burner since just before Christmas but as of this morning I am happy to report it is on the front burner, flames turned on high and contents boiling over onto the stove. Nearly 6 hours of uninterrupted writing, rewriting and editing has made me  happy, happy , happy and dare I say it ? HAPPY ?! So many hours strung together without phones or housework, animal care or family concerns, paperwork or whatever. I needed the first hour to remind myself of the characters names and some other minor details like the plot, but after that words came plodding out of my fingers. I can't type so words rarely "fly" out of my fingers but I have learned how to hunt and peck quickly.

My newest goal is to weasel a few friends and family members into reading the finished draft sometime in March and April before I send queries  into agent land in May.  May 17th to be exact, my 52nd birthday. The entire book writing process has been an uphill battle. Wes ? Can you demonstrate a minute please ?

Thank you Wesley.. Such a good boy.

The biggest problem for me has always been time. I enjoy writing very much so of course it gets done last or second to last as horse riding "jockeys" for last place.  Pa dumb ching . But this must stop, or start, as writing is not just a pastime but must become an additional  source of income for us as we as now totally self employed. To not write makes no sense. I have the skills (rudimentary my dear) and we have the topics, so many many of them , and when coupled with the market which seems very open, well ...opportunity knocks. Time (there's that word again) to put down the broom, or the vacuum and pick up the laptop. Time to get organized and disciplined. Time to decrease TV watching EVEN MORE. Time to get crackin', get serious, and get busy.

Time to take a nap.

Just a short one. Then its back at it, and very soon another excerpt from my book. Until then here is a reprint I posted on my blog back in September

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh baby !

Last night was an eeire and weird sort of night. Rolling clouds, bright full moon, breezes too warm causing the midlife farmwife to swoon. Sorry.  The last time I "swooned"  was 1975 and I'm pretty sure it was not romance related.

So, the sky was very Fall like, but last I looked it was still February in Central Illinois. Something is up, I thought.

This morning when Keith did chores he found this wonderful sight

Our crossbred sow Dot with her FOURTEEN piglets ! She looks very comfy and satisfied doesn't she ? I always had my babies just ONE at a time and I know I never looked this good after delivery. She farrowed in one of the custom made hutches Keith custom made this past summer. Its a great design with plenty of room for mom and babes and an area in the back that babies can snuggle into but remain safe from mom accidentally lying on them.

See the boards (two 2x4's nailed together) behind Dot ? And the way the hutch roof angles towards to bottom of the hutch.? Both these measures help decrease losses due to crushing. Those and the fact that mom can come in and out of the hutch as she pleases with lots of room to roam outside. Ideally we would have them farrowing in the woods, if we had any woods, but we do not so we do the best we can with the pasture and the hutches we have. With each version of this farrowing hutch Keith tweaks a part of the design and our survival rates improve. Another decade or so and we'll have this hog raising thing licked...chewed ? Smoked ?

Ooops. I forgot to thank Mad Maxx our Red Wattle Boar and daddy to these piglets. What a great job he did of passing down his Red Wattle coloring. Tomorrow we'll count wattles.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Scruba scruba scrub

Grandson Wesley has been well taught by his mommy to wash his hands after using the loo. He hops off the toilet, literally he HOPS off it like he's vaulting off the horse in an Olympic Competition, and then says to himself "scruba-scruba" as he goes to wash his hands. Or maybe its "washa-washa", well something like that. Since January when I started on this new venture of soap making, he and sisters have enjoyed being my official soap testers. They tell me they like all the soaps which is why I make them my official testers.

Two batches this week done once again very late at night when my good friend Insomniasia visits me. The first is not so much my style, being all very foophy-girly-pinky-smelly-magnolia-like.

But I had great fun creating the wavy tops and designing the packaging which is nothing more that a $5 set of scrapbook papers of numerous designs. These papers are the perfect weight for soap packaging and my computer printer handles it well. My next batch was pure genius...someone else's genius. I found a hot process soap recipe for oatmeal soap. So I whipped it up but then decided to add a little bit more. You're surprised ? Aren't you the very same commoner who told me just last week I have a problem with things being "good enough"?

Therefore I added a little somethin', somethin' to the oatmeal recipe. I added vanilla, and some honey and...some brown sugar. Yeah, I did. I had read somewhere that adding sugar to soap recipes can increase lather or was it moisture ? Either way I added and mixed but not too much mixing because I love texture and inconsistency. The final product was this:

Is it a cake  ? Badly decomposed Irish Peat ? Or soap good
 enough to make you want to have your mouth washed out with it ?
As the soap was setting up in its mold, a very high tech mold I made from an empty diaper wipe container, I sprinkled some oatmeal on top. After it hardened overnight I cut it into these yummy bars:

Why yes I did for a brief, unkind but hilarious (to herself) moment, think about serving one of them to Keith for breakfast with a nice hot cup of tea but I stopped  said self. If anyone needs to clean up their act, it's me, not him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who took my tenderloin ?!?

One of the most difficult tasks of our still fairly new meat business (we're about 18 months old) is the tracking of the meat. When did it go to the locker ? How many pigs or beef went to the locker ? WHICH LOCKER ? Who is the meat intended for ? A private customer ? A restaurant ? Our store ? Or is it just the average run of the mill political bribe ?

 Do not scoff. Our bacon has quite a reputation for whole house salivation. In fact, if I'm needing to get somewhere faster than usual, I just tape a pound of bacon to the window of my Ford Transit Connect (I'm still hoping FORD will get off their duffs and make me an official spokes farmer). If I happen upon the good cop just doing his job, I'll slow just enough to tear off the package of bacon , dropping it onto the hood of said squad car. This diversion and /or "Thank You" for his or her outstanding community service often gets me a few miles out of his radar range while he scrambles out of his vehicle to retrieve his prize.

But really , how do I document such ? Its my job as retired RN, turned midlife farmwife, turned secretary,  turned bookkeeper, turned her ankle running for the last piece of Tiramisu, to know where the beef is. I've tried several methods. I even wrote some information on a piece of paper once. But as our business has grown it became obvious that my record keeping needed to mature. So I came up with the dreaded form.

Yes, a form. One to be completed as meat was taken to the locker, and updated as meat was picked up. It looks like this:

Oh wait. Wrong form. This is the one we give to the locker so they have the customers information. Hmmm I wonder where I put that other form I was telling you about. You know the one about...about...oh forget it.
Good night.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Local is as local does

I was a foodie looong before the term became hip, I mean rad ?  Now, if you are not a foodie then you must be living in the back cooler of McDonald's as it had become a very popular term. But what it is exactly ? A Foodie is someone who appreciates GOOD FOOD. Not fast food or junk food, not frozen entrees of boxes filled with preservatives and very little actual food but instead real food that came hopefully from a non-factory garden or farm.  A "locovore, "  another popular term,  is in the broadest sense, someone who tries to eat mostly food grown locally. "Local" is usually food that is grown within 100 miles of the consumer but the definition varies.

The reasons for eating locally grown food are many. Hopefully the food is better because it has traveled less distance and been handled far less. On average , an American' s food travels 1500 miles before it comes to rest on his plate. This is understandable for something like Salmon which I love, as the Atlantic is a ways from Livingston County Illinois, but why does my lettuce have to travel so far? Especially when a place like Living Waters  is literally less than 20 miles from my door ?

And what about chicken and beef and pork ? Turkey, lamb, goat and talapia, syrup and wheat flour ? Popcorn, arugula, sprouts ,milk, honey, apples, jams and ice cream ? Each and every one of those items is grown within 30 miles of our farm. Amazing really.  I'll be the first to admit (before one of my kids rats me out) I do not eat all organic or even all local because fact be known, I have a lazy side. It is EASY to buy food that is not so good for you. The supermarkets make it that way, tucking all the fresh stuff off to the sides while filling up the middle rows with all the convenience foods. Yet, once you START eating better, you will find yourself seeking better food.

When we opened our little store a few months ago we knew we would sell our meat there and we hoped to carry a few items from other farmers IF they were interested. The response has been so exciting ! To date we have products from 6 other farmers which include organic wheat flour, organic corn meal, organic wheat berries, cage free eggs, POPCORN (I am a popcorn freak) and Black Aztec corn meal. What I like the most is knowing those farmers through their involvement with our farm or through our mutual involvement with the Stewards of The Land. A farmers group that is accomplishing tasks that many other farmers said could not be done. Read about that group here

But when we choose to eat mass produced food, food with little taste and often less nutritional value we are also choosing NOT to support the small family farms which surround us. Even now when you drive long distances in the country you will notice the lack of animals in the fields. Where did they all go ? Many are now housed on factory farms where thousands of animals are crowded into small buildings never to see the outdoors even once in their lives.  Its no wonder that these same animals produce meat with little or no real TASTE.

You might think a small purchase of corn meal in a bag at a farmers market or small family farm store can't possible make a difference but it does. Telling your friends about the farmers sweet corn you purchased makes a difference too. Find the farmers in your area and get to know them. ASK them how they grow their produce, raise their animals, and if you like what you hear, buy their  products.

It takes a little extra effort but you'll be rewarded with better tasting, longer lasting REAL food which is nutritionally better for you and an appreciative farmer who may be able to afford to run his booth at the farmers market or sell his items in the local grocery store next year.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spring is here !!!

Really, when I woke this morning I saw robins in the yard and pink and yellow tulips blooming under the trees.  A lovely pastoral scene was noted by our old tractor.

Then I wiped the NyQuil dribble off my chin, shook my head and reality came slamming into me. Keith reads from the thermometer "Its -8 out there"  I glare at him. Always with the lively chit chat that one. Thirty minutes late he announces "Its up to +5 " Like he is the town crier or something. Have I had my 10th cup of coffee yet ? I have not. Please everyone, stop talking.

Soon I will bundle up my chubbed up self and start feeding/watering any animal Keith is not currently milking. I will be layered well. My fear of course is that I will slip and fall in the ice and snow and be unable to rise. I will be forced to roll about the farmyard looking for help like some camouflaged female gorilla desperately seeking her George of The Jungle.(My insulated overalls are green camo colored. I bought them 4 years ago when they were on sale. Hmmmm women's size XL camo insulated coveralls and no one was buying them. Go figure)

Spring. Your appearance is strongly requested.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thank You Chef Carlos

Several hours ago Keith loaded 5 large SNOW raised hogs (not much pasture out there to speak of) into our livestock trailer and escorted them down Drury Lane to Chenoa Locker. There, they will walk the Green Mile. In the am after doing 2-3 hours of chores which include milking our dairy herd and feeding/watering  all the other animals, we pick up the five amigos in a slightly altered state. They are loaded into the back of our Ford Transit Wagon, one half carcass at a time. Heads are kept from rolling down the street by wrapping them in plastic bags and tucking them in and around the carcasses for safe keeping. We venture north towards the land of Good Eats and Great Chefs.

On the way we run into a lot of this:

And when we get home after 5-6 hrs of driving time and another 2 hours of delivery time we are exhausted but not yet finished  Chores have to be done again, invoices reconciled and messages answered. Later we wonder if all this work is really worth all the trouble. I mean really, is it so important that food is raised in a honest, sustainable way  and available locally instead of obtained from a megafarm 1500 miles away ?  Does it matter that we strive everyday to keep chemicals and pesticides from invading our herds thus allowing the meat to taste like...well...meat ? Does anyone really care that our animals are outside and able to enjoy fresh air 365 days a year ?

It is usually at one of those low points that I am blessed with something special, like an email from a chef who took a few moments to tell us thank you. One of "our" chefs, Carlos Ysaguirre of Anteprima and Acre Restaurants in Chicago wrote this:

"Excellent!  Look forward to seeing you!  Believe you me, this is the quietest time of the year for restaurants.  We will enjoy curing and hanging guanciale, lardo and sausages, brining the hams, making fresh sausages, stuffing's best we are not that busy.  I think the best part of my job is showing my staff how to appreciate the animals.  I explain the thought, care and passion that goes into raising the hogs; how the hogs demand respect because it was once living and now it helps to feed people and help the restaurant; the utilization of the whole animal is our responsibility and obligation.  My boys are really engaged and thrilled to be a part of such a responsibility.  Thank you very much for the opportunity!  Have a great day! "

So, OK. I guess tomorrow we'll do it all over again.

For a great meal see Carlos at

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Its my party and I'll sigh if I want to

Started my new job this past weekend. CEO of South Pork Ranch's Pediatric Future Farmer Division. The hours are reasonable, every weekend Friday afternoon until Monday afternoon. The benefits are even better than the hours. I have three full days to totally indoctrinate our grandchildren in regards to any and all things. I also have the potential to eat pancakes three times a day. I can read "The Giving Tree" as many times , out loud of course, as I please and I can stay up until the last one of THEM falls asleep.

The pay will not show up on a paper stub or even in an e-deposit to my account but rather the pay will dribble in when I least expect it, often with bonus pay.

Like two nights ago when the 3 year old grandson was sleeping with me as he was still struggling with his cough due to cold. As we lay together in my huge full size bed (The papa had been willingly relocated to the living room couch) I thought said grandson had fallen asleep. I turned my back to him and snuggled into my own pillows. Just as I started having that really great dream  about Aiden Quinn choosing me over loop nut job Susannah in Legends of the Fall , I felt my grandsons little chubby hand run through my hair and then drape across my face. So sweet so very very sweet. Wait...somethings smells a little funny...and feels a little wet. Could it be ? Why yes it is, some leftover puke on the grandson's shirt sleeve from his last vomiting bout.

Like I said, the benefits are tremendous.

Wes demonstrates the age old use of socks as gloves while Allana nurtures her snow baby.
and Nicole cares for her packing tape restrained doll. Yup, all normal here on the farm front.

And now a postscript to blog friend HR
     Dear HR,
          Your words of encouragement and advice were more helpful than you will ever know. Many many thanks from one Midlife Farmwife Grandmother to another.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Death of a Snow Salesman

Well the hype was good, the reporting excellent, the results ? Almost up to snuff. Not as much snow as fast as 1967 but still impressive on its own merit. It took Keith many hours to finish chores today and in fact the morning chores just ran into the evening chores. At least the wind died down but then again the temperature has dropped.  Not much of a break.

So just as a reminder..the chicken house yesterday morning:

The chicken house late this afternoon:

Some other points of interest here on South Pork Ski Resort in Central Illinois:

Yeah, the back porch and main door of entry. Not for awhile. We've been going in and out of the chimney.

And this here would be the drift blocking the farm store. Several folks called today to see if we were open. Well, we were out and about and caring for animals (Keith did 95% of that today) but there was no way anyone was going to make it up our driveway. About an hour ago our good neighbor Neil came with his big monster tractor and bulldozed a path to our house. So tomorrow morning we are good to go. (Thank you Neil, thank you very much !) And then finally here is Keith doing the hard work of shoveling wet snow out of the calf hutches . I came by a few moments later with dry straw to rebed them. The End.

Stormageddan 2011 Day Two

The wind howled all night but my plastic window coverings from Kmart held up, keeping the snow drifts out of our bedroom. Seems Chicago got hit the hardest with over 17 inches and another 3-5 predicted for this morning. Here on the farm ?  Can't tell. In fact, at this point all of our house doors are drifted shut. I was able to get the back door open enough to see this

Pushing my arm out the lower back door and pointing the camera towards the chicken house, I saw this:

Now at first glance you might think "Big deal ! I can still see ground "  Yes you can in the foreground of this pic but go back...waaay back. First to the picket fence. The top of that fence is four foot and then back towards the chicken house (left of center) and its obvious the drifts are taller than that. So the real question is , will I venture out to get better shots or just promise Keith all kinds of wonderful breakfast foods if he does all the chores ?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stormageddan 2011

The Blizzard of 2011 is here ! For the last two days we've been hearing about its approach so when it finally came it was a bit of a relief ? Not really but at least we know what we are dealing with. We're dealing with snow. Between 15-20 inches now predicted.

After bedding everyone (STOP IT !) we overfed and came in for lunch. The view out our kitchen window looked like this:

About an hour later when the snow and winds hit it looked like this:

Just a few hours later at 4pm it looked like this:

Later I was talking to the grand kids on the phone, reminding them for the 10th time about the big snowstorm of 1967 ( Chicago, January, 23 inches) that this Yaya lived through and I told them I would go outside and email them some pics of the farm so they could see the biggest snow of THEIR lifetime as it was affecting South Pork Ranch. Instead of going out, I just stuck my arm out the door. Our yard looked like this:

Our chicken house is just to the left of center. A few hours earlier the chicken House looked like this

So there you have it. Snow. Illinois. Mid winter. Shocking I know. Stay tuned to this blog for more Stormageddan 2011.

"All (farm) hands on deck !"

The latest prediction is this...16-19 inches of snow over the next 24 hrs with high winds and blizzard conditions. Just great, and I am out of Diet Coke.

Keith was outside all day yesterday closing barn doors and windows, nailing plywood and other such "inventory" over those doors and windows that either would not close or did not exist initially. He also continued to add extra bedding over the bedding I did the day before and as soon as I am done with this blog, I will be re-bedding over that. If animals are dry they have a much better chance of coming out of a windy, cold, snowy snap. By noon today we hope to be seeing only this, rising up out of thickly bedded critter homes.

" A Man's kiss is his signature"
-Mae West
Its a bit hard to fathom all this snow predicted as looking out my kitchen window at this moment reveals mostly calm. High winds last night were an inkling of what was to come and due to the drifting I sent a message out on Facebook that  farm visits would be best after Thursday. To complicate our matters even more, the pump failed on our milk tank, milk has warmed and none is suitable for anything but pigs for at least the rest of the day.  You know what they say, "Its always something Matilda"