Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bread Baking

You may or may not know, depending on what posts you've read of mine, that I make all our bread. Well, ok, on those very rare occasions when we have hot dogs (gaaack) I might buy buns. But otherwise, since last winter, I decided to save some money, get healthier and make our bread. I use a recipe given to me by my mom-in-law. It's a whole wheat recipe that you can put together and use your bread machine to knead and do the first rise. That's great 'cause I don't have to do the kneading!

I have a friend that's very into healthy eating. She makes all her family's bread, to the tune of five loaves a week, though she usually gives one away. She also makes tortillas, waffles, pasta... all that stuff. And she uses her own fresh ground wheat. She heads up a shopping group that orders wheat berries (that's what you call the grains) from a company and has them shipped bulk to save money. There are quite a few people in this group. They order hard and soft white and red wheat, spelt, kamut, and I'm sure several other grains. These usually come in 50# bags or 45# plastic tubs. Now, you have to have a grinder in order to use this stuff. My friend has a grinder. It's niiiiicccee! Expensive, but nice.

Let me pause here and answer a question you may have.... One loaf of bread takes about three-and-a-half cups of flour. The grinder grinds about 8 cups of berries at a time, which yields about 12 cups of flour.... That's a lot of flour! Doesn't it all go bad before you use it up? (There, right there, that was the question. Did you catch it?) First of all, you typically don't grind it all at once, because it would lose much of its vitamin content due to time. However, you can prevent this by freezing the flour. More on that later. But no, the wheat and grain berries don't go bad as long as you keep them dry and pest free (no bugs please). When archaeologists uncovered the tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt, there were some tombs that contained pots with wheat berries in them. Much to the scientists' surprise, these berries were STILL viable and sprouted when planted, after centuries in a tomb! Some of the folks in the ordering group went a little overboard with the Y2K scare and ordered a BUNCH of wheat berries. I guess some of them are still using the last of that supply with continued good results. Now, didn't God just know what He was doing?

Anyway, this friend of mine, Tomi is her name... she called the other day and said that there was an extra 50# bag of hard white wheat left and wondered if I'd want it. She said she'd grind it for me if I could put it in my freezer. Um, let's see... fresh, whole wheat flour.... 50# of berries for $27..... Yeah, I'll take it. So I went yesterday and she let me use her machine to grind the last little bit of berries so I could have the experience using the machine (it's a Nutrimill if you want to know... She also gave me about 12 cups of soft white wheat flour for use in no-yeast baking, like for cookies or pastries. So now I have a ton of whole wheat flour in my deep freeze which should last me well through the winter.

I've been using store bought whole wheat flour for my baking up to this point, but even the 'whole wheat' from the store isn't really whole wheat. It doesn't contain the bran or the germ, which is where most of the nutrients are. So I've been adding wheat germ when I bake. NO MORE! I was so excited about this flour that I came home and baked a new loaf last night, even though we still have part of a loaf left. This loaf baked up so high and nice, it's amazing! I think I'm ruined when this flour runs out. Maybe I can be like the widow that fed Elijah during the famine and it'll never run out......

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dat don' happen too of'en 'round heah

Well, something rather unusual took place at our house today. We had three meals all together as a family. We were all up and at it this morning and sat down together to a breakfast quiche. Then, I made some homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch, which we all ate together. And supper rolled around with taco salad for all. We usually do have dinner all together. But three meals all sitting at the table together just doesn't happen often.

Other than that, I have a sinus infection with some accompanying chest congestion. I feel poopy.

Have a day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chickens 'n such

Well, I don't have anything exciting going on. I AM going today to pick up a Kimbal Spinet piano that we're getting for free. It needs some TLC (crayon on the keys, scratches, water stains), and it's been sitting in a garage for goodness-knows-how-long. But we're getting it free and it can be tuned (let's hope). Now all I have to do is figure out a way to tell my mom that we don't want her to teach my daughter how to play. See, she tried to teach me... and I can't play. Get it? Besides, if Anna were to get upset with Mom because Mom's pushing her or something, that wouldn't be good. Better for her to be upset with someone unrelated. Sheesh, what a pain.
But I digress. Let's talk about chickens for a moment, shall we? OK!
The beautiful bird in the picture is a Barred Plymouth Rock rooster. Plymouth Rocks are dual purpose birds, meaning they are good egg layers and good meat birds.
Did you know that it is unnecessary to have a rooster in order for the hens to lay eggs? Yes, it's true! No need for the obnoxious, living alarm-clock with spurs. You can have a whole flock of chickens and not one rooster and still get a bunch of eggs. This is good news for the person who thinks they'd like a small backyard flock, even in town. They can have 3 or 5 hens to give them a nice supply of eggs (and fertilizer) and not have to worry about annoying their neighbors with a rooster crowing. Indeed, most towns will allow small backyard flocks, but ban roosters. Some towns require a permit or written consent from the neighbors before you build your coop.
A young female chicken is called a pullet and a young male, a cockerel. They don't become hens and roosters until they're a year old or a little more. A capon is a neutered male chicken - it's been caponized.
As for the rooster's crow... Well, you can't teach it not to crow. However, I think there is a surgery to remove the rooster's voice box. But really, I mean c'mon - you got money to spend on that? There are some breeds of roosters that are somewhat more quiet than others, but they all make noise. A hen isn't exactly quiet either. She will cackle and make a racket when she lays her egg, when something startles her, or when she's excited about some tidbit she's found to eat.
While there's no scientifically based nutritional difference between white eggs and brown, there are a lot of people that will swear by one or the other as being far superior. Me? I like browns. Don't know why. Well, ok, maybe it's because I grew up with white eggs from the store and using brown eggs makes me feel further from the store and closer to the farm. Yeah, that's probably it. You can usually tell what color egg a chicken will lay by looking at it's ears, located just behind and a little south of its eye. A white or light colored ear usually indicates white eggs. A red ear means brown eggs. There are eggceptions, though (sorry, couldn't help it). The breeds of chickens know as Araucanas, and Ameracaunas are sometimes called "Easter Eggers" because they lay egg with shell ranging in color from pink, to light green to blue, with shades in between. Again, no nutritional difference. BTW, Araucanas are just about the oldest breed of chicken in the Americas.
There are several words used in association with keeping chickens: Hen house, run/yard, coop, pasture.... A hen house is just that. It's the building the birds are kept in at night or in bad weather. It's where they sleep and lay eggs. The yard or run is an attached, usually fenced in area where the chickens can go outside and get some air, scratch around, take a dust bath. Both the run and the hen house comprise the chicken coop. Pasture is just that. It's any area where the chickens have more freedom of movement outside and can forage for food.
But how do I raise chickens, you ask? There's several ways. The old timers, and some folks nowadays, free range their chickens. Usually they have a small flock and they let them roam at will about the property. Chickens won't go too far afield, away from their roost and nests. Others pasture their chickens either with a chicken tractor or a largish pasture attached to the coop and house. A chicken tractor is a hen house on wheels or sleds that can be moved every so often (usually daily) so that the chickens, confined in a movable fenced yard, can graze over new grass and spread their fertilizer around the place. The advantage to these types of chicken management is that the birds forage and do most of their own food acquisition. Yet another way to keep the birds is in confinement. Either in a small house and run, or kept completely in a barn or house. This is generally not good for the birds, as it prevents them from getting much natural forage (if any), prevents them from getting the sunlight they need for vitamin D production, limits their exercise and can lead to feather pulling, picking, and fighting - out of sheer boredom. Also, it requires the farmer to supply all of the chicken's food.
Most breeds of chickens you can buy these days from a hatchery have been bred for egg or meat production. Through careful selection, the natural tendency for a hen to want to sit on eggs and raise them - called 'brooding', or 'going broody'- has been mostly bred out. There are certain species that still tend to go broody a little more than others. In all breeds, you'll sometimes find an old cackle that decides she wants to hatch her eggs.
I could write so much more, but that's probably already more than you ever cared to know about chickens... if you've read this far. Maybe I'll do some writing about cows......

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Something different

Well, not much has happened in the past few days, so there's not a lot to write about. A neighbor friend of ours bought us tickets to the annual Kiwanis pancake breakfast, so we went there this morning. One of the perks of homeschooling... we got to all go out for breakfast.

Something you may not know about me - I'm a Superman fan. I've always like the Man of Steel and enjoyed reading his comics (though I rarely bought one as a kid). But I just think Big Blue is cool.

I've been doing some reading lately. A week or two ago I finished a book by an archaeologist/philologist (a person who studies languages). The book was written in the 80's. I actually forget the name of the book, but his two other books on the same subject were called 'America B.C.' and 'Saga America'. His position is that Bronze Age Europeans actually traversed the Atlantic and visited North America centuries before Lief Ericson did, as our modern history books tell us. There are actually numerous sites in Canada and the U.S. that are near copies of European Bronze Age dolmen, stellae, burials, etc. These folks would have come over before the last ice age would have made that kind of sea travel impossible. Many of these are inscribed with early Celtic, Scandinavian, and Basque writing, called Ogam and Tifinag inscriptions. Most archaeologists have dismissed these inscriptions as mere decoration or 'wear and tear' of centuries of weather. However, to the trained eye, they tell a very real story, relaying the voyages and accomplishments of European traders and kings - most notably, a Norse king named 'Woden-Lithi'. Sorry, but I can't even remember the author's name right now. Good reading with a lot of pictures to illustrate his points, though.

Another book I'm looking at right now is called 'The Irish in Ireland'. It's a brief history of Ireland from pre-Celtic peoples, to more modern history. It's VERY brief.

I've got my eye on a couple of other books to read when I'm done... A new book just out called 'Liberal Fascism' which shows how many of the policies of liberal politicians through American history are actually rooted in Fascism. It's a scholarly work, and not the ravings of a craze 'Right-Wing Bleeding Heart'. The author doesn't leave off without a word or two about the need for some caution and care by the more conservative side of politics.

And finally, 'The Good Old Days'. It's a collection of interviews, diary entries, testimonies, letters, etc. of Germans involved in the real front-line killing of the Holocaust during WWII. I understand it's not for the faint of heart. But I'm always fascinated by peoples' personal stories, and especially when I can find out the answer to, "What in the world were they thinking?"

I get these books at the library. Good thing too, or I'd be flat broke, have no space in my house at all, and have a very unhappy wife.

All of these right along with the two or three other books unfinished on the shelf to pick up at leisure, several books borrowed from a friend, some homesteading magazines, and a couple of other books I checked out at the library. Go figure.

Well, I guess I did have something to say.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Good Fall Harvest

Well, it's been a long couple of days. I put up four more pints of pickled beets, froze about five quarts of green beans (don't have a canner yet), froze about three quarts of broccoli, cut up and froze ten or twelve Corno di Toro peppers, and now... Applesauce! Above, you see the apples, all cut up and cored, cooking in a pot, skin still on - need the pectin, you know. I have one of those corer/cutter things that you push down on the apple. But a year or two ago, a friend gave my wife one of those nifty things that have a handle you turn. The apple is pushed through a blade or two and it cores and slices it into uniform pieces. There's even an arm with a blade to peel it if you want to use it. It's a wonderful little tool. Highly recommend it.
After the apples are good and soft, you run 'em through a food mill. I got mine from Rural King for about $20. It's an invaluable tool and it's a whole lot easier than pushing it all through a strainer/sieve.
This, then, is what you get. Add some cinnamon to taste and put it into hot jars with hot lids and stick it in the hot water bath.
Process them babies for twenty minutes......
And voila! Applesauce! If you're curious (and more for my own information as much as anyone else), 3 pecks of apples -or 3/4 bushel - will produce 10 quarts and one pint of applesauce, give or take. I had a small tragedy during the hot water bath. One of my quart jars cracked along the bottom. I heard it happen but didn't know which jar it was. So I had to take them all out at the end. I found the broken one. Unfortunately, all the applesauce in it ended up in the water as I pulled it out of the pot. Well, live and learn. It could have happened because I didn't have the jar hot enough for the water, or maybe there was an inherent flaw in the jar during manufacture. Oh well.

Today, I'm making apple butter (sorry, no pics - it took forever just to upload these pics). I'm using one peck of apples (the left over from the bushel I bought). So far, 5 pounds or so of apples have produced 5 1/2 pints of the yummy dark brown delight. I've got another 6 pounds or so of apples in the crock pot cooking right now. By the end of the day, I'll probably have another 5 or 6 pints. Boy, is it yummy... sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. I love this stuff!!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Letter sent

Well, after about two or three days of writing, revamping, and rewording, I finally put together a letter to the land owner that I thought was professional, appealing (as in "Please give me this property"), and tasteful. I had Melora read it and she thought it was good. So it went in the mail on Monday. He should get it tomorrow or the next day. Here's hopin', ya know?

As for everything else... Since our house is one of the drop spots for our CSA, any boxes left over at the end of the day are mine. I hit the jackpot yesterday with three boxes! We split our share with a friend, so when there's an extra box, we give her one whole one and we keep one. So today, she got a box and I got three (ours plus two extras). I've been a busy boy today. I put up three freezer bags of broccoli, five quart bags of green beans, and probably six or eight bags with two Corona di Toro peppers cut up in each. Of course, except for the peppers, I had to blanche everything before freezing. PLUS, I still have some beets to pickle tomorrow. I also have two HUGE turnips. What the world am I gonna do with those? I don't eat turnips. I remember my dad taking one and eating it raw with salt... yeeeccchhh. All of that, not to mention the bushel of apples I bought yesterday to turn into sauce and applebutter. Yeah, I'm busy, but it's worth it.

Not much else to say. That's all for now. I hope to have something to report soon about the farm.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Not much to say.

Isn't she purty? That's a Guernsey cow. Not my first pick of a milk cow, but nice to look at nonetheless.

No news about the farm. Haven't even written the letter yet. I suppose it's probably because it requires me to sit and think for a while and I can't even come close to that with my three raving lunatics running around.

We're headed to the apple orchard on Monday, where I'll buy my usual apples for applebutter. But this year, there'll be an additional purchase as I intend to make applesauce. My boys can go through a whole jar in one sitting, so I think it behooves me (no pun intended) to look into ways of cutting that cost a bit. Making my own unsweetened and cinnamon applesauce might just do it. Gonna be busier'n snot.

Also of note, Grant turns 4 on Monday. He's quite excited.

Melora got another "A" in her Masters' work. She's doing exceptionally well and I'm quite proud of her. She stresses out so much about stuff though. I do try to help her see things more clearly and rationally. HA! Listen to me!! Ain't dat a hoot!?!

Well, that's all for now. Until next time, be well, do good work, and keep in touch. (Thanks Garrison Keilor).

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Farm Sweet Farm?

Well, this is a picture of the house that stands on the 80 acres I most recently wrote about. It has a wrap-around porch on the back. We didn't get out of the car to look around because Melora was afraid someone would yell at us for trespassing. But my sister-in-law did look in it. She says it's rough and needs work, but the woodwork inside is beautiful, and the house has potential. Yeah, I can see that. The property is wonderful. Lots of big trees, mostly oak. Pasture all the way around the place with new looking fence. The posts were straight, the wires were tight. There may have been cattle there within the past several months, but nothing there now. There isn't any one big barn. There are a couple of smaller barn type buildings that were storage areas. But oh, could I see myself living there!
Ok, here's just a sample of how my brain works... I've already envisioned how we could take down the two smaller barns and reclaim the wood to use on a newer, bigger barn, placed in a more accessible location. I've even thought of having a ''Painting Party" to get it painted once it's built. I've envisioned where the garden will go, where the fruit trees will go, where the chicken house will be.... I know, I know, I'm crazy. I got to the point where I asked God to help me think more realistically about this place so I don't go all idealistic and get super depressed when it just won't work out. I didn't want to pray that way, but I did it anyway. Melora said I needed to really pray about it if I was serious about wanting it, because she's not convinced. She liked it well enough, but there are a lot of 'what ifs'. We both know that it would take a miracle for us to be able to afford it at all and then have enough money left to actually fix the house up. Prices, despite the market, are sky high around there.
I tried all weekend to get ahold of the man that owns the place. Melinda (sis-in-law) said they're Christians and really nice people. So, I think what I'm going to do is look him up on the net and write him a letter. Tell him who I am, what I'm looking for, what my dream is, what Melora and I want for our kids, what we want our homestead to be (a blessing)... and then ask him about the property. What's the worst that could happen? He could say "No, it's not for sale," or "I'll take $850,000 for it". Either way, we don't get it. On the other hand.... he could be really touched by my dreams and hopes, and decide he wants to be nice and bless someone. Yeah, it's a long-shot, but nothing is impossible with God. If that's the farm He has for us, it'll work out. Otherwise, I wait and keep looking. No big deal. But we do have a friend who is moving over that way and seriously would want to buy half of it from us to build on.
Anyway, that's where I am with all this. I'm just waiting and trusting. Gonna write my letter soon and send it off. We'll see. (Thanks for reading Keetha!)

Friday, October 3, 2008

80 Acres

Well, my sister-in-law called last weekend and said she was driving through the country. She was on her way home from taking some reference pictures of donkeys to paint a picture for Martha Stewart. Yes, I said Martha. Long story. But it's pretty awesome, no?
Anyway, she drives by this farm and is immediately drawn to it. Discoveres that the big ol' house is empty and begins to look around. She immediately calls me. She thinks she knows the owners. I look it up on Google Earth (after my sister-in-law gets the street right so I can find it.) Wow! It's like the farm of my dreams. No it isn't the picture above. But she does know who owns it. The grandfather of one of her art students. She does some checking and gets me a name and number. She thinks the man would be willing to sell but has the feeling he may want to sell all 80 acres together. 80 ACRES!?! There's an old two story house that reminds my sister-in-law of her grandparents' home, fenced pasture (lots of it), many large, mature trees all over the property, and a few outbuildings/barns.
Ok, for those of you who haven't even considered moving in the past year or two, or who don't know what property in central Indiana may be going for (even with the horrible housing market)... Within the past several months, I found 10 acres of land for sale not far from this farm going for $12k an acre! So... 80 acres. And considering that 1/4th of that amount would be more than ample for my needs. It would SO have to be a God thing. But how awesome would it be to have acres of land on three sides of you to buffer you from anyone or anything else. The surrounding land is all crop land anyway. Nearest neighbor? About 1/4 a mile down the road (just like I like it). This place is out in the country about a 10 minute drive from Melora's parents. It'd be 20 to 30 minutes from any hospital Melora might want to work in.
I tried to call the man several times yesterday with no luck. I'll try again today. Of course I realize that even if he wants to sell, the house might not be liveable, the price will be outrageous, and we're in no place to move now anyway. But that property is all I've thought about the past several days. With just a few exceptions (namely the lack of the barn where it ought to be) and no pond, it's pretty close the farm I see in my head... very close! Of course, nothing is impossible with God. What on Earth would I do with 80 acres? I'd use what I needed and just enjoy the rest of it I guess. Maybe use the back 10 acres or so as a hayfield after a few trees were removed. I've been praying for a farm for a good while now. If this is the one God has for me, then He can work it out. Maybe the man will be impressed with my goals, our homeschooling, and our Christian faith. My sis-in-law says they're Christians too. I dunno. I'm trying (against my true desires) to be realistic and realize that this likely won't happen and not to get my hopes up. But it never hurts to call and ask.... We're going to Sheridan today to visit my in-laws and attend the "Harvest Moon Festival" they have. Oh yeah, I'll be driving by the farm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wow, long time

Well, it's been quite awhile since I've posted. Hmm, I guess I quit because no one was reading it and I was just writing for myself. But maybe that'll change.

I've recently become the coordinator for an egg group. A what? An egg group. See, there's this Amish farmer named Mr. Peachy that has a bunch of chickens (I mean a bunch!) and he sells the eggs. They're organic, free-range. He sells 'em for $2.50/doz. which is reasonable if you've checked prices at the local grocery for organic eggs. Basically, I take orders collect the money and let him know how many eggs to deliver to each of four drop sites around town, twice a month. What do I get out of the deal? Free eggs! Yeah for me. The first egg I cracked yesterday had a double yolk. I'm pretty eggcited.

My sister-in-law called me last weekend raving about this farm she saw with a great farmhouse and 80 acres. The granddaughter of the man that owns the place is one of her art students and said that he wants to sell it. I think I'll call the guy. Even though a fourth of 80 acres would be ample for my needs, and the fact that 80 acres with a house is probably so much more expensive than I could hope to buy... I'm still curious. It's up close to Melora's parents. I've looked at it on Google earth. Can't tell much about the house, but the property looks wonderful. Sigh. Someday I'll have my farm. I'm trusting that God will answer this prayer of mine. Some days the desire is so strong, it hurts. I know I'm asking for a lot of work and effort. But I've got three strong, healthy kids to help me and a supportive wife.
Speaking of the wife. She's working on her MA in Nursing Education and is just about half way through the program. I'm very proud of her. She's doing so well and is going to make a fantastic instructor. However, I think I should earn some sort of degree too... after all, I'm learning at least half of what she is just because I read and edit all she writes. But it's fun and we have a good time talking about stuff she's learning.
Maybe it won't be so long before I post again. Have a day.