For a number of reasons I have decided to move my blog to another site. Since it is fairly early in my blogging career I figure I should do it now rather than attempt it later.

My new blog can be found at http://agandculture.blogspot.com/. All my previous posts are there (the comments didn’t make it unfortunately).  Once you click the above link, on the left hand side you can “Follow by Email” by submitting your e-mail address.  You will then receive an e-mail requesting you click the link in it to activate your subscription, so don’t miss that step.  You can also follow with Google Connect on the right hand side (this requires that you have a Google account).

Sorry for the hassle; I hope I don’t lose anyone in the transition.  This will be my last post here, so see you on the other side.

Thanks for reading!

Callie

This weekend we set up for the sheep shearing marathon (which I dub “Lambgen”) that will take place later this week.  This is a huge endeavor which takes a lot of well timed movement of several hundred sheep and the forethought to make sure there is enough grass for all of them to eat for several days (among many other considerations and plans). Sheep generally need to be shorn every year before it gets too hot around the foothills. The quality fleeces can either be sold to a commodity broker, or as we will do this year with the best fleeces, sent to a wool mill to be scoured, carded and spun into yarn.  We will have local yarn to sell at the farmer’s markets for you knitters!

On Saturday we moved the ingenious mobile sorting corrals and chute Dan has created. They are made with thoughtfulness of the animals natural movements and with the intention of creating the least amount of stress on the sheep and shepherd during sorting.  We set them up next to the small barn where the shearing will be done and got to work sorting sheep.

The Lambgen chute

Sheep on the move

The border collies help a lot

Sheep waiting to sort

Most of the sheep will be shorn by a professional shearer later this week (Matt and I will go out to help on Wednesday, please stay dry weather!).  But Dan needs to get a head start to get some sheep back out on a grazing contract so he decided to shear 30 himself on Sunday.  To pick which 30, we sent all the ewes with lambs through the sorting corrals once.  We sprayed a mark on any lamb that was large enough to wean from its mother, checked the number on its eartag and circled it on our spreadsheet. This took several hours.

The sorting trenches

Once the first round was done and we had marked 30 lambs, we crossed referenced the lamb number to the mother’s number, then sent all the sheep through the sorting corral once more, separating the chosen lambs and mothers from the others based on eartag numbers.  The chosen sheep went into a barn to keep them dry and clean for shearing the next day.  The unchosen went back into the pasture for the time being.  By the time all this was done it was late in the day, I was covered in dust, a little sunburned and so exhausted.

Everyone worked hard

No time for rest however, Matt and I had one more ballet to attend that night. It’s one of my favorite shows (we have seen it the last 2 years) called Modern Masters.  It is generally very un-traditional works and music by award winning choreographers. The choreographers and dances are different each year.  It was at a local high school this time, so we were much closer to the stage and dancers, we could hear them breathing hard and see them sweating!  It was just wonderful and they have shows in Davis and Folsom in the coming weeks if you are able to attend; it is highly recommended.

I have a couple busy weeks coming up, but it is all good stuff that I will share here..on the agenda this week, beginning farming class on Tuesday and Thursday nights and helping with the shearing on Wednesday.

Stay tuned!

Spring bounty from the foothills

Friday night I dreamt about sheep, so it was fitting to spend most of Saturday with them.  Dan and I checked on the sheep that are grazing a nature preserve, only to find they had escaped their pen (for the 7th time in 9 days).  It seemed likely the sheep had assistance from local kids in this latest breakout, plus we found part of the electric fence that may not have been functioning properly.  These situations are dangerous and stressful for the sheep (not to mention the shepherds), especially if the sheep have been harassed by people or dogs or they are near a frequently traveled road. The whole flock can be skittish and unsettled for days.

In the middle of all this Dan got a call that the cows he grazes for someone else were out in the road, so he had to go tend to that situation.  Paul, another shepherd intern, came out to meet me and we corralled the sheep and built them a new, hopefully escape-proof pen. This took all morning and part of the afternoon but the time flew by and before I knew it the work day was done.

I really enjoy the physicality of this work – moving through the world, seeing the changes that come with the seasons; interacting with different people and creatures; using my body in the work.  In our culture physical labor has been degraded to the point of being worth very little…just think how little farm field laborers are paid, when they are probably the hardest workers in the country.  Why is this? Why does our culture value the work of the mind so much more than the work of the body?  It is the work of farmers, stockmen and laborers out in the physical world that feed and clothe the rest of us…why don’t more people realize this and see how incredibly valuable it is? I wish my “real” job (working at a computer) was anywhere near as interesting and engaging as my days working with the sheep.

Back at home I checked in on the garden and admired Matt’s handiwork at weeding and planting eggplants!

Carrots, radishes, lettuce, kohlrabi

Potatoes

Eggplant

We also celebrated Mother’s Day a little early with a family dinner and dessert – I made the strawberry rhubarb pie!

I had seconds, of course

On Sunday, Matt and I treated ourselves to dine out at The Green Boheme, a raw foods restaurant in Sac.

Cool Italian sandwich

Portabella "steak" with mock mashed potatoes - the "potatoes" are amazing

Chai macaroons

“Raw vegan – or “living food” –refers to fruits, vegetables, and other natural ingredients that have not been heated above 105°. This approach ensures food remains in a living state, preserving the maximum amount of vitamins, phyto-nutrients, and enzymes to nourish your body.”

The food tastes wonderful and is artfully crafted; I don’t have the discipline, time or money to eat like that all the time but it is a treat I enjoy on occasion.

Saturday was farmers market day but not a normal market day. Instead of setting up to sell, we brought three yearling ewes (female sheep that were born early 2010) to the market, set up a small pen and shearing equipment and Dan did sheep shearing demos every hour.  The demos were a big hit, with lots of interest from kids as well as adults.  It was interactive too…anyone who wanted was able to feel and take home a puff of freshly sheared wool.

If you have never felt wool straight off a sheep, it is a bit greasy because of the lanolin in it, which is a water-proofing wax that is secreted from the sebaceous glands of a sheep.  It makes your hands  really soft.  It also smells like sheep, a smell that I really like now, weird yah?

Shearing

The good shearers get the wool off in one piece!

I got time to do a little shopping at the market too. I made sure to get scones early from Alice at The Baker and the Cakemaker stall.  She makes the most amazing scones (I had a ham and cheese AND an apricot!) And the rye bread her husband bakes is perfection.  I ended up with too many strawberries to eat, so after finishing the afternoon sheep/dog chores with Dan, I went home and made some strawberry jam.

Jamming

This took me about 45 minutes and made 3 good size jars of jam from 3 baskets of berries, a box of pectin, a cup of apple juice and 2 cups of sugar.  The best part for me is when the lid pings as it seals and you know you did it right. Then I know it can last for months in the pantry and still taste great! (Not that it will last that long.)

Sunday was just as full and rewarding.  One of Dan’s previous interns, Courtney, graciously allowed me to come make yogurt and cheese at her house with her and her adorable baby, Josie.  Courtney has 5 Friesian dairy ewes, one of which is producing milk.  So first things first, we got Cleo the ewe on the milking stand and did the morning milking. Hand milking is a very interesting, oddly intimate experience. It is wild to me to think that thousands of years ago some person was watching a mother animal feed her baby and decided it would be a good (and extraordinarily dangerous) idea to try and get some of that milk for himself!

So, we started by making yogurt out of the warm, fresh milk. We did this by heating then cooling the milk to specific temperatures and adding a little bit of whole cows milk yogurt with live cultures as a starter. Then we had to keep it warm, dark and still for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. (By the time I left about 6 hours later, it had not yet set.)

Then it was on to the cheese, feta cheese! This was my first experience with cheese making and I found that it is a long and fairly complicated process. You need several specialty things to accomplish it as well, such as lipase (optional, for flavor), meso or thermophilic starter, rennet (which solidifies the milk into cheese), thermometers, cheesecloth, string, big pots to double boil and lots of water. And of course, milk. We used previously frozen sheep’s milk, which freezes and thaws out perfectly, unlike cows milk. Here are a couple pictures of our process:

Heating the milk

 

Stirring the curds and whey (we could have eaten all of these by themselves!)

Draining the curds

Hanging feta curds

After many hours of tending closely to our awesome smelling cheese, we hung it to drain the whey out, then let it sit under a weight so as much of the whey as possible got squeezed out.  Then, since we are making feta, it goes in a brine bath (salt and water Courtney prepared the previous day) and into the fridge for about 2 weeks.  I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Ricotta hanging over left over whey (aka chicken feed)

So after we separated the curds (the solid part) from the whey (the liquid part), we heated the whey to just before it boiled and then scooped out the ricotta cheese that formed on the top, amazing!  And the best part…we could eat it right away!

So good!

This Saturday did not go as I expected. And  it wasn’t until I got back to Sac Sunday night and took a few minutes to reflect, that I really looked into the disappointment of my unmet expectations.

Working with the sheep on Saturdays has quickly become a highlight of my overly urban life; Saturdays are the days I look back at and forward to to get through a week at the office. This Saturday promised to be especially novel and exciting (to me at least) as Dan planned to do a sheep shearing demonstration at the farmers market.  Saturday morning came however and Dan was sick, too sick to shear or have me come out.  This threw me off; I make so many careful plans (and back up plans) and build up expectations based on these plans. When things don’t work out as I expect, I feel like I’ve fallen from my tower of expectations into the muck of sadness and self pity. It can be a problem, not being able to control everything.

Despite feeling a bit mopey, the day was filled with interesting and novel experiences.  My Mom and I went out to the farmers market anyway, to get some produce and visit with some of the people I am getting to know there. We picked flowers on the way home, then worked in the yard (the radishes are ready!) My older brother (soon to be a new dad!), my Mom and I went for a hike to Hidden Falls in Auburn and saw green spring hills dotted with wildflowers.

Wild iris

Hidden Falls - uh, is the nature viewing deck really necessary?

On the way back we stopped a local winery, Dono dal Cielo and got a bottle of their ’06 Zinfandel to share for Easter. Apparently Zinfandel grapes are the best variety to grow in the foothills. I like their Chardonnay also, but those grapes come from Sonoma County. My absolute favorite part of this visit was the stuttered protest and shocked look on our pourer’s face when I reached for a tasting glass; he thought I was somewhere between the ages of 12 and 16 (I attempt to see this as a compliment🙂

In reflection, I realize how many fun unplanned and unexpected activities we squeezed in on this suddenly free Saturday and how those activities left little time to dwell on the disappointment I felt in the morning. I had a wonderful day, I genuinely enjoyed the company and everything we did. This is difficult for me to absorb, but apparently spontaneous activities can go just as well as the meticulously thought out ones and they perhaps involve less stress, if I can just get out of my own way.

Easter was a special time with lovely people and though I often experience a let-down when holidays are over (again that mountain of expectation) I have found as close a cure for that as I am going to get right now – lots of excellent leftovers!

I want to wish everyone a happy Holy Friday and Easter weekend. I hope you can spend it with the ones you love and have some yummy treats!

Last evening I had a chance run-in with one of the co-founders of Soil Born Urban Agriculture Project
whom I had previously met.  We had a nice chat and it opened up some ideas and possibilities about my imminent future.  Soil Born is a special non-profit that has two urban area farms. They are very active in the community and passionate about bringing local food and education to people in the area; they have a great mission and vision.

I don’t really think this meeting happened by chance, more like it was part of a grander design and it felt like a bright ray of sunshine split through an otherwise frustrating week.  I’ll keep you posted!

Ever have one of those days? For me today is definitely one of those days…that I daydream about a life much different from this one, away from some of these people.  Today, September can’t come soon enough.

Soaking up some rays

This weekend felt different, more spacious, less rushed.  Dan was at a livestock auction in Oregon, so he left a small group of us in charge of the sheep.  This meant that I was responsible for checking up on the ewes, lambs and goats and feeding the guard dogs on Saturday; straight forward and not very time consuming. I opened up a new paddock for the ewes and lambs to move into (thanks for setting it all up, other intern Paul!) It took the sheep about 10 minutes of watching me and milling around until they decided collectively to charge me and the newly opened area…it made me laugh.  I got a video of the end of the charge:

I went down to check on a smaller group of ewes, lambs and goats and sadly found one lamb that had died.  After talking with Dan on the phone, we realized this was a lamb that had fractured its leg a couple of weeks ago. Dan said it was likely the lamb got an infection and that was the reason it died.

This wasn’t my first or my saddest experience of livestock death since starting with Dan, but it was the first time I had to face it totally on my own. Honestly, I have felt anxiety just thinking about something like this happening. The anxiety comes from not being sure how I will react in the moment, whether I will fall apart, get sick and run away or hold it together and take care of what needs to be done. I also knew that this experience was inescapable, especially with my intention to have livestock in the future. Occasional death will be inevitable, natural and even healthy.  Taking care of this lamb was sad but with a quiet prayer I found hidden strength to call on and to count on in the future.

Lupin picked from the side of the road with my Mom

This day was also full of sun and life to come. My whole afternoon was open after the morning chores, so I decided to spend it in the garden with my parents. We went to the nursery, then planted three kinds of tomatoes,  lots of flowers, and thinned the lettuce plants (the culls went into our salads that evening). We also made plans for a couple more vegetables we want to plant in the coming weeks, as it starts to get really warm around here.  I will take some pictures of the garden to post soon (I keep forgetting).

I have to mention the warm Sunday afternoon bike ride along the river with Matt, a happy conclusion to a spacious weekend.

So, how does your garden grow? What are you planting this year? Did you take advantage of any sunny weather this weekend? Do you have any new creative endeavors taking shape this spring?

Strawberry heaven

I don’t think the words “grocery shopping,” “fun,” or “inspiring” are often used in close proximity, except maybe if you are a chef. I would be more likely to describe it as “a necessary chore,” “tiring,” “overwhelming,” and “confusing;” especially “confusing” as I start to pay attention more to what I am eating, when I am eating it and what kind of quality it is.

I now realize big chain grocery stores do not reflect the seasons in their produce nor the reality of what food in its natural state looks like (apples are not shiny and waxy when pulled from a tree, potatoes don’t come sliced frozen in a plastic bag).  Sure, a lot of packaged food is easier to prepare and you can get ripe tomatoes in December, but there are costs associated with this convenience; costs that begin with eaters being totally removed from and unaware of the cycles of earth and how a bean stalk springs from the soil.

This bothers me; it is so basic.

Since starting work with Dan on Saturdays, the first half of my day is often spent at the Auburn Farmers Market. I love this market! It is built from a kind and diverse agri-community that is dedicated to feeding neighbors and pursuing the physically demanding agrarian lifestyle.

 

Matt (on his b-day!), me and Dan at the market

Every week is different at the farmers market.  I have been there in the cold, snow and rain this winter.  This past Saturday it was still chilly, but also sunny with the promise of warmth to come. The sun brings many more customers out to the market as well as more vendors. This past week there were vendors selling citrus, vegetables, mushrooms, cheese, fish, strawberries and emu chapstick!  Dan and I were selling lamb stew meat and “polar bear fur” (according to the local 8 years olds) aka sheepskins.  It is surprising to see what can be grown and created locally. It is also surprising to me to see so many of the same patrons at the market each week, regardless of the weather.  These folks are making the local food movement possible, by voting for local economies with their own hard-earned $$.

Where else but a farmers market can you meet and ask questions of the actual people who are getting dirty to bring food to their communities? It is direct access to those who are involved in one of the most fundamental aspects of human survival – food.    

If you are in the area Saturday April 23rd, Dan will be doing a sheep shearing demonstration at the market. Come by and check it out!  

Here are some fun and inspiring pictures of grocery shopping at the farmers market last Saturday.

Lisa with Hillcrest Orchards in Penryn

Local entertainment

Cut flowers!

Local fungi

I don’t remember having blondies growing up and it seems like a weird name for a cookie, but after hearing Matt say several times how much he likes them and seeing a recipe in the SacBee, I thought I would make some for his birthday. They turned out great!

Great dessert, thanks for the help Sophie!

The recipe was from a section for small batch baking, so you don’t have to make a huge pan full, just enough for a couple people in a loaf pan (or dessert for one for 4 nights!)

Chocolate chip blondies

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes 4 large bars or 8 squares

A great cookie that’s rich and chewy, conventiently baked in a loaf pan. Debby Maugans’ original recipe adds peanuts with the chocolate chips. The Bee’s Kathy Morrison tested it with Heath toffee bits instead, but you could use chopped walnuts or a second variety of chocolate chips. (I used smashed almond roca bars that my uncle gave me).

Note: Beat the egg very well with a fork before measuring.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons well-beaten egg (not a whole egg)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine, melted

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup cocktail peanuts (or Heath toffee bits or another favorite mix-in)

INSTRUCTIONS

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with a strip of aluminum foil to fit down the length and up the short sides, with enough extra length to extend over the edges by about 1 1/2 inches. Lightly butter the foil and set the pan aside.

Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and whisk to blend the dry ingredients.

Place the brown sugar, egg, butter and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts (or other mix-in).

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is golden and dry, 22 to 25 minutes.

Remove the loaf pan from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack. Let the cookie layer cool completely in the pan. Use the foil to lift the cookie layer from the pan; carefully peel back the foil from the sides and cut into bars.

YUM!

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