Berkshire bacon is on the way!!

Well, several of our registered Berkshire pigs are going to the happy hunting ground later this week.  We will be offering some of this pork for sale to friends, family and other foodies like us.  We’re excited to see the results of what has been absolute hours and hours of work on these crafty, smart and enormous animals.  If you follow our blog (as infrequent as it may be), you already know a few things about how we raise our livestock, but if not, here’s a quick overview:

Organic…to be or not to be!

Being certified Organic is an incredibly expensive and time-consuming process that a lot of small family farms don’t undertake.  While we could certify once we have been on our land for 3 years (we’re not quite there), we don’t feel like it’s worth the thousands (upon thousands) of dollars to invest in this governmental certification, so instead we try to be transparent with how we raise our animals.  For our pigs, they are raised in a large pen with access to some forage.  We supplement their feed with commercial feed that is antibiotic free when we can get it.  Yep-that’s a big problem-that feed is not always available, but we do our best to avoid the antibiotic feed that many commercial pig operations feed exclusively.  In addition, our pigs receive zero additional medications during their life here with us.  So, I feel honest in saying that our pigs are sorta organic.

Registered?  Papers?  I don’t need no stinking papers!

But, really you do!  Our stock is registered and more importantly they are from registered blood lines found at a well established, well-respected family farm.  We can trace the lineage of our pigs and are happy to report that there are no “Uncle Daddys” among our boys or girls.  As we move forward with our breeding program, we will continue to ensure this clean genetic line by introducing stock from other family farms thereby keeping everyone pure Berkshire and not genetically compromised.

Butchering…learned it on youtube?

As a small family farm, we do a lot of things ourselves.  However, there are a few things that we absolutely will not do and one of the things at the very top of that list is butcher our own large animals.  We do not have the facility, training or equipment for it and we prefer to turn that over to trained professionals in established facilities whose cleanliness is inspected and maintained.  Do you really want me butchering your pork chops next to my coffee pot while running my dishwasher?  Yeah, I didn’t think so!

I’m your mother’s cousin’s sister’s friend twice removed…..you can cut me a deal on the price, right?

We love our friends, family and mother’s cousin’s sister’s friends and would be happy to give anyone who wants a large volume of meat a volume specific price.  However, please remember that these are Registered Berkshire pigs.  Do a quick Bing search for Berkshire pork and you will see that prices range from $15-$40 per pound from commercial producers who make no effort to raise organic.  In Japan, apparently the prices can go even higher!  But…we’re not in Japan and we’re not looking to extort money out of other pork loving foodies.  As we take this batch to butcher, we will sit down and calculate a fair price based on our cost that is reasonable. You will know the price per pound of the cut you want before you have to commit.  But, I’m just going to say this…if you want grocery store prices, ya gotta go buy grocery store pork…capice?

You don’t have to be a local yokel to enjoy these piggies

If you aren’t near us, we can ship to you!  Just contact us through our site and we can work out shipping, etc for you to get your little piggie products.  We may be country but we do have FedEx/UPS!

Speak now or forever hold your peace..

This is hopefully not a one time deal.  We will have other pigs available for purchase later this spring/early summer.  From there, our focus will be on our breeding program so that we always have a supply of yummy, delicious berkshire pork available.  If now is not the time for you to buy humanely raised, sorta organic, deliiiiicious berkshire pork, you will have other chances!

 

Thanks to everyone who helped, supported and educated us as we started this process of learning about pigs.  Now let’s go make some bacon!

Step away from the canned pumpkin!

Nothing says the start of my favorite time of year like pumpkins.  Our little Blueberry can sniff out a hidden pumpkin patch the way some kids know where you hide the candy in your handbag!  There are 7 large pumpkins clustered in the middle of my dining room table right now as a result of multiple trips to pumpkin patches.  If you are anything like me, you have a hard time saying no to buying yet another interesting looking pumpkin for fall decorations.  But instead of decorating them and forgetting them, think ahead and plan for reusing those pieces of decoration for your baking!  If you are thinking about trying to be a little more conscious with your food, finding fresh local produce from small farmers like us is a fantastic way to not only get to know your neighbors but it’s also a smart way to help your kids better connect with the food they eat.

To start, pick out some midsize pumpkins. If you have a choice, I recommend sugar pumpkins. They are typically easy to find and available both at farmer’s markets and your local mega mart.

Slice off the tops and then scoop out the interior. Once clean, bake flesh side up in a 350 degree oven for 20-35 minutes. Some recipes will suggest oiling them or seasoning them. I like to just roast them dry.

Just keep an eye on the pumpkins after 20 minutes to ensure that they don’t burn. A little bit of carmelization is a good thing but you don’t want them to look like the crazy tanning lady…

Once they have cooked and cooled, you can scoop out the flesh and just discard the skin, or if you are like me, make some happy little Berkshire piggies happy by giving them the leftover pumpkin.

Just because I love looking at their little selves.  Smoochie smoochie!

Just because I love looking at their little selves. Smoochie smoochie!

I just love those piggies and will use any excuse to show pictures of them: Wilbur, Spot, White Fur, Stinky and Hubert (he’s French), our baby barrow Berkshire piggies. I love them. And yes, I will eat them too…but I digress.

From there, you can freeze the flesh or use it right away. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of gal, so I made muffins with my freshly cooled pumpkin. And when I say muffins, let’s be honest…I mean cupcakes that I call muffins so I feel a little better about myself:

Blueberry’s favorite Pumpkin Muffins

For the muffins:

1 cup room temperature butter 1 to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground clove 1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground ginger 3 large eggs

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 2 ½ cups AP flour

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (see above) ½ to ¾ cup instant rolled oats

For the topping:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar 3 tablespoons AP flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, sugar and pumpkin together with an electric or stand mixture. Then add eggs and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While you can absolutely buy pre-ground spices, I strongly recommend that you invest in one of these cool little things:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic3

I cannot tell you how much I love this little grater. And if you are wondering what the heck that is in my needing to be manicured hand, its nutmeg. Once you have smelled freshly grated nutmeg, you will want it on and in everything. The little plastic jars of spices cannot hold a candle to this. In addition, this little grater can also help you discover the joy of freshly grated cinnamon:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic4

I was trying to be so cool and give you an action shot here of me grating fresh cinnamon into the mix. However, shortly after I snapped this, I managed to grate about half of my finger into the mix. You will note that I didn’t include that in the ingredient list. You are welcome.

After you have mixed your dry ingredients, slowly incorporate them into your wet mixture. The dough should be wet but not overly wet..think cookies versus cake. From there, scoop into muffin cups-about 2/3 full. From there, mix all of your topping ingredients in a separate bowl and spoon generously on top of your muffins before baking for about 20-25 minutes.

I’ll be honest; this isn’t a great shot of the muffins. By the time I took this, I had downed several of them…in the name of research, of course! However, all of that sugar made me a little jumpy. Sigh. The things I do for blogging…

Now, what I really love about these muffins is that they are idiot proof, and frankly, living my life, I need more things that are idiot proof. The first time I made this recipe, I forgot the baking soda and powder but they still turned out like rock stars…or rocks, but at least tasty rocks. If you wanted to riff on this recipe, you could substitute applesauce for some or all of the butter. You could also swap out whole wheat flour for AP flour. In addition, you could omit some of the sugar. Bottom line is that there are many ways to make and remake this recipe..just get in the kitchen and bake!

 

Updated: DANGHOLSTEIN!: The final chapter

For those of you who have kindly been following along with our cow follies, today the DANGHOLSTEIN! chapter of our journey comes to an end when Sheldon drives her to the happy hunting ground (aka the butcher who will process her) in the sky.

courtesy of soda head

courtesy of soda head

After she is dispatched, the meat will age at the butcher for a couple of weeks and then we will be able to pick up our cuts.  We have sold half of the cow for zero profit (should be at least break even) and will probably sell/trade a little bit more of her.  Since this was our first endeavor and not the breed that we are making a long term run with, our goal was just to fill our freezers up with grass fed beef for the winter.

While DANGHOLSTEIN! isn’t anyone’s automatic choice when it comes to beef cows, we have learned that it’s not uncommon for a Holstein to go to processing after her milking days are over.  Plus, we believe that the benefits of a grass fed cow are so incredibly strong, we have a hard time being anything but grateful for the meat that she will provide to us.  We anticipate the meat to be sweet-probably sweeter than what we have had in grass fed Angus and/or Belties, but we shall see.

We have talked candidly to the Blueberry about today’s event.  In fact, she has started licking her lips when we drive past DANGHOLSTEIN! in the pasture.  Something that creeps me out to no end if I’m going to be honest….but, I appreciate that my little pragmatic farm girl can take such a matter of fact perspective on this process.

Today in about an hour, our family will gather together to say a prayer over DANGHOLSTEIN! to thank her for her blessings on our family and wish her a speedy journey into the happy hunting ground.  For animal lovers, this may rankle, but our perspective is that we have probably provided her a much better life than she ever would have gotten in a commercial feedlot, plus her meat will provide for our family (and other families)-her life will not be wasted.  So, I guess in the end, she will not be DANGHOLSTEIN! at all, but despite the frustrations of learning to raise cattle, she will instead be known as ThankyouHolstein in our family.

UPDATED:

We heard from the Happy Hunting Ground (aka Cloud’s Meat Processing) that TYHolstein’s hang weight was 570 lbs.  While we didn’t know her live weight at time of butchering (she wouldn’t fit on my weight watchers scale…), the average percentage of hang weight versus live weight is typically between 60-63% with some range up to the high 60’s.  Taking this into account, she either had a big roll of quarters in her pocket or she lost weight from the time we purchased her to the time we took her to process.  We learned some things along the way from this, the purchase of our first feeder cow.  If we have to buy another feeder cow (hoping our #Beltie herd will be built up before that is necessary), we won’t do it during the height of summer.  Lands were dry, grasses were puny and while the cows had plenty to eat, it wasn’t the grass-a-palooza that we saw early this spring.  We also learned that we aren’t buying another heifer unless she is going to be used for some baby makin’!  For some reason, TYHolstein didn’t like our existing herd and ran like proverbial hell to get in our neighbors pasture with his Angus heifers.  Not sure why, but she never looked back and once a cow is committed, well, I think she is like a stubborn old woman-no changing her mind.  We think had we bought her younger, she would have had more time to acclimate to our herd.  I’m sure as the months/years go on, we’ll figure out what else we did wrong this go around, but at least for now, we remain forever grateful for her gifts.

Found on these blog hops:

found at www.modernhomesteaders.net.  Go check 'em out!

found at http://www.modernhomesteaders.net. Go check ’em out!

 

Is skim milk making our kids fat?

I saw this article this morning on my FB feed and forgive me whoever posted it, I can’t even remember who did it!  Anywhoo…this NPR article talks about a potential causal link between skim milk and heavier kids.

I think the NPR article was a little too light on facts for me and for some reason, I can’t pull up the BMJ article, but it does make me wonder more about this link…especially considering that we made the pediatrician recommended switch to skim at age 2 like so many other parents.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with a parent making a choice to continue to give full fat milk at any age.  However, I think at times we as parents (specifically parents who crave a more natural lifestyle) can jump on the bandwagon too quickly when we think that the “establishment” has led us astray.  Do I think that full fat milk could be more healthy than skim?  Sure.  Do I think that there is enough evidence in this study to prove without a doubt that previous advice on skim vs. full fat is wrong?  From what I have seen….Nope.  And until then, I’m going to continue to follow what I think to be right as a Mom.

What about the other parents out there…how do you separate the hype from the fact when it comes to making changes like this for your kids?  I would love to hear from you!

Whole foods got me pregnant

I bet that title made you look!

Seriously…I want to share a little story with you from about 6 years ago.  After a couple of years of diet, exercise and eating less (but not always better), I had found myself in far better shape than I had been in years.  I was leaner, stronger and happier.  Enter in Sheldon with his wily smile and cooking prowess and fast forward a year or two,  I had gained a ton of weight back.  I was in that happy phase of love where it’s ok if everyone has a big butt…you have a big butt together.  At least that is what we tell ourselves, right?

Well, I decided to do something about it.  I think without realizing it, I had decided to take my first steps towards an ultimately more healthful life when I decided to give up processed food for a month.  You know how hard it is to give up processed food?  I am a child of the 70’s.  For years, my idea of food nirvana was a diet coke, a box of twinkies and a pile of magazines with nothing else to do but snack and read.

This picture of the world's ultimate non-whole food courtesy of wikipedia

This picture of the world’s ultimate non-whole food courtesy of wikipedia

But, I knew I needed to make a change and I was unwilling to try yet another program diet.  It just made sense to me that to eat more like our ancestors had to be the trick.

So, how did I do it?  Well, we had not yet started our city home backyard garden, so it was thrice weekly trips to Whole Foods and Healthy Approach Markets.  The farmers market in Dallas at that time had few organic vendors if you can believe it.  And I wanted to be as close to nature as possible.  I wanted to only eat whole foods and as much as possible, I avoided foods that had been processed.  Which meant no pink stuff (I lost the taste for it that month and never got it back thank goodness) for my coffee, only sugar and whole cream.  I gave up bread entirely which was not a bad deal.  Most cereals were out.  Prepackaged snack foods like crackers and chips, adios.  I ate lots of balanced meals without mystery ingredients.  What started off as no processed foods evolved a bit into focusing on limiting processed foods, but also no foods with mystery ingredients.  Was I ok with granola with several ingredients?  Sure.  Did I pick granola that had been made off shore with polydifardnesnelsud (ok, I made that word up, but you know what I mean)…nope.  That wasn’t happening.  For lunch, I ate out almost daily enjoying as many simple foods as location allowed.  Some cultures seem to lend themselves well to this type of cooking, and for me, Mexican (or more accurately Tex Mex) was a winner.  I eschewed my weight watchers crackers, diet soda and processed low fat/low cal foods.  I feasted on fruit, veggies, meats, certain cheeses, yogurts and simple desserts.  I remember enjoying what I ate so much, not watching my caloric intake at all and yet still dropping 20 lbs in a month.  And you still want to tell me how diet foods are for good for us????  Yeah, not so much, huh?

And at the end of that month, I failed to realize that another odd change had occured for me.  See, I had been told many many moons ago that children would not be an option for me.  And I had never felt the call to challenge that diagnosis.  However, as my body started to feel weird and different (as it only can when you have a wee alien living inside of you), I began to realize that perhaps all of the junk I was putting into my body was also stopping God’s natural process.  For me, not only did I lose weight and feel great, but I got a Blueberry to boot.

Now, this is not to say that healthy eating is the only thing you need to do to fix infertility problems.  Come on-it’s not that easy as any couple with baby fever can tell you.  However, all I’m sharing is my real story of how I went from highly processed to a mom within just a couple of months.  I still have miles to go before my family has eradicated all of our reliance on grocery store “junk”, not to mention the junk in our proverbial trunks, but that month opened…no, reopened the door to the wonder of God’s bounty to me and reminded me that it’s just not nice to fool with mother nature.  Happy eating!

Slow Foods Ark of Taste: Is real food becoming extinct?

For those of us who are actively making a conscious effort to eat food closer to how God originally created it, I think the slow food movement is less of a movement and just more of a way of life.  But what is the slow food movement you cheesie pouf eating readers may ask?  Well, in a very small nutshell, it’s a movement that was started to help consumers realize just how much genetically modified, engineered and just plain wrong food hits their plates every day.  What I really like about the ideas that they espouse is the concept that the best foods shouldn’t be reserved for the rich…that is, those people who can afford to go to Whole Foods and Sprouts every day picking up the best organic produce that the market has to offer.  No.  Slow food is about making this food available at all income levels in every store so that we all are getting the best of God’s bounty-not just what Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta want us to have.

badge courtesy of slow food usa

badge courtesy of slow food usa

To that end, enter in their US Ark of Taste.  The Ark of Taste is a listing of 200 foods who are in danger of becoming extinct.  Many of these are regional specialties, but I think it’s a national imperative that we stop and think about what we are putting on our plates.  When is the last time you stopped and thought about the variety of produce you were putting into your cart at your local mega mart?  For some of us, probably not too often.  But, there are plenty of little changes even the non-homesteader can do in the grocery store.  Instead of reaching for that same bag of brown potatoes, try the reds, golds or better yet, the purple potatoes!  See those long white radishes next to the round red ones?  Try those instead!  Armenian cucumbers instead of “regular” cucumbers?  Yes please!  Another great way to ensure biodiversity and the inherent values behind the Slow Food movement is to frequent roadside stands and/or farmers markets.  Yes, some of the produce available at these events is going to be GMO and loaded with chemicals, but in other cases you are going to find small scale farmers who are doing everything in their power to produce heirloom produce without the use of harmful chemicals even if they can’t jump through the hoops from the USDA to become “certified organic.”  And speaking of heirloom produce, for those of you who are backyard gardening, farming or homesteading, think about picking up some heirloom, non-GMO seeds to produce in your garden/henhouse/pasture.  I don’t know about you, but when I start looking at seeds that produce fruit and veg in abundant, wild colors with incredible taste descriptions, I ask myself why have I been buying the same mealy produce year after year at the mega mart?  The answer may not be easy to find, but the solution certainly is…biodiversity.  Let’s all embrace it and bring some interest back to our plates!  Happy eating!

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!  http://newlifeonahomestead.com

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!
http://newlifeonahomestead.com

 

 

 

Sneaky foods: Cauliflower mac n cheese

We are pretty blessed by the fact that The Blueberry has a fairly diverse and at times, refined palate for a 4 year old.  She has tried and enjoyed every kind of fruit and vegetable that we have, every protein product under the sun, a variety of stinky and non-traditional dairy products as well as cultural specialties.  You know what she doesn’t like?  Pickles and mustard.  That’s about it.  However, that is not to say that she is a perfect eater.  Far from it.  There are days that I fear she would starve if cheese and peanut butter didn’t exist.  During those times, she typically eschews any kind of fruit or vegetable product instead driving us crazy by constantly requesting what she considers to be the four basic food groups: chocolate, candy, milk and butter.  Not exactly a balanced diet.

During those times, I am happy to be inspired by books like Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef whose sole mission seems to be to feed our children the way we want them to be fed without them knowing it.  Sounds like ridiculous parenting, no?  Well…no.  I mean-think about it.  Of course I want my child to prefer a carrot stick to a chic-0-stick but it isn’t always going to happen.  Despite the efforts I put into making a variety of healthful, veggie filled meals, there are going to be times where her stubborn nature rises and she says “Actually, momma.  I’m a dragon and I don’t eat vegetables anymore.”  (Sigh-quote from lunch yesterday.)  During those times instead of forcing her to come to a joy of veggies and fruit on her own, I’m going to give them to her while letting her feel that she has won the food battle.  Enter in sneaky mac n cheese.

This is a great recipe for days where you have too much going on and not enough time.  I’d love to give you a totally healthy scratch recipe for mac n cheese, but that ain’t happenin today.  Instead I give you Annie’s white cheddar mac:

picture courtesy of Annie's

picture courtesy of Annie’s

And God’s awesome creation.  That crown of cruciferousness.  That casanova of caulis.  That babe of brassica…Cauliflower.  Also known as “I’m not eating that crap” in my house.

pic courtesy of God.  Oh, and health.com

pic courtesy of God. Oh, and health.com

So anywhoo…cook your mac and cheese according to the box directions.  In the last 30ish seconds of cooking time, drop in a few pieces of frozen cauliflower.  It could also be fresh, but dang, that stuff is expensive in my part of the country and almost impossible to get organic, so we go with organic frozen.  While your mac is draining, take those now nuclear hot pieces of cauliflower (owwie, my hands) and drop them into a blender with 1-3 Tablespoons of milk and the cheese flavored packet.  Well, not the whole packet..you know, the contents….blend well.  Return the smoothish (as smooth as cauliflower can be) back to the pan to warm up.  Once warm, incorporate your mac and voila…healthier mac n cheese!

I typically sprinkle “shreddy/sprinkley” cheese on here to disguise the slightly lumpy texture, but The Blueberry eats it up like crazy.  And I’m crazy about the fact that despite her efforts to the contrary, I have just provided a more nutritionally sound meal with not a lot of extra time/effort.  If you get a chance, I’d love to hear what you are doing to sneak in some health for those “no way” days!  Happy cooking!