Great Meeting Today

A group of friends got together at Big Oak Ridge today to “network” and talk about Food Safety, Locavoria, and forming a “food community.”

The food was great, the conversation was lively, engaging, and educational, and all agreed that forming a local food community was something we should pursue.

We shared ideas, discussed where we are all at (and where we would like to be) and learned some new things about each other.

All in all, a very worthwhile afternoon. We will be meeting again in May – watch for updates!

 

First day of actual work on the farm!

Walked the fence line today, removed some trees and debris from the fence. It’s in pretty rough shape so I’m  going to have to revisit it once the frost is out of the ground.

Cleaned the chicken coup – I’m pretty sure the girls (and guy) will be happy about that!

It felt good to be outside, thinking about the farm “waking up” after a long hard winter.

I’m looking forward to playing in the dirt! Who’s with me?

March comes in like a…whirlwind!!

IMGP1192Obviously 2014 is not going to be a relaxed, CanningShelvescalm year on the Ridge. We launched into March by completing our long needed canning shelf project. Our new shelf is eight feet long and holds up to 800 jars of canned goods….that should keep us for awhile.

As usual, our best laid plans did not materialize. We had a couple of projects that we thought we could accomplish in March but we suddenly found ourselves with  house guests for the first two weeks of the month when our son and daughter-in-law got a chance to have a second honeymoon in California. With the added addition of homeschooling and care for two grandchildren, our projects took a back seat. We enjoyed a dinner with great-Gramma, went to a ballet, read E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, watched The Blue Planet on Netflix, learned fractions, spelling words and did science experiments with Papa…plus a few perfect sunny, sled-riding days for P.E. Our days flew by.

The day their parents came to get them, we were spinning the revolving door as new house guests were arriving from Louisiana to attend a funeral. As we began to ready the basement guest rooms, we discovered a water leak apparently caused by the perimeter drains freezing in the last below zero spell. That led to some rearranging and serious cleaning before we had to rush out the door to the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. At least I didn’t have to cook. We arrived home late just as our guests were arriving…after a bit of visiting we all crashed exhausted into our beds for a quick night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, I overslept and had a near disaster as I was on schedule for serving coffee hour at church. Thankfully I was bailed out by a dear lady who jumped in to start the coffee and set up before I arrived. We rushed from there to set up and celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday with a huge surprise party. Dad was totally taken off guard and thoroughly blessed as eight of his 10 children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren were able to attend.  It was a good party!

StPatricksDayToday is St. Patrick’s Day and we are having a quiet evening at home and thanking God that the usual St.Patty’s Day blizzard has missed us this year!!

I’ve done a preliminary garden sketch and seed inventory and hope to start some seedlings soon. Spring is coming!!

Until next time, Paula

 

Is February Over Yet?

My resolve to post more frequently in 2014 sure didn’t last long. After a crazy January which ended with a trip to frigid Illinois to visit the new grandbaby, we launched into the deep, dark month of February with a house guest and an 80th birthday dinner for Kenton’s mom. Then he left for a six day “Fly In” at Corporate and I battled freezing conditions to tend to critters and keep the snow cleared while he was gone.
It was a month of struggles as the snow continued to pile up and temperatures dipped below zero on many days. The local schools used up their allotment of snow days and the propane shortage caused some seriously uncomfortable days.
To maintain our sanity, we scheduled a few dinners with our friends and some evenings with local kids/grandkids…we had not seen any of them since Christmas 😛 We renewed our involvement in the local Tea Party, started a new Sunday School class and began attending Men’s and Women’s meetings at the our church. I also taught a cheese making class one Saturday morning, that is always fun.
For Valentine’s Day, we went to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh;  it helped with the winter blues just to see some birds among tropical foliage and hear water running. We stopped on the way home at a Mexican Restaurant for dinner.
The month has been a serious challenge to keep with our eating goals when all we wanted to do was eat chocolate and comfort junk. Hopefully the sun will soon be shining and the snow will melt…it’s been a LONG month.

Northwest Pennsylvania Growers Cooperative

NWPAGCOn Wednesday evening, we attended an information session at the Cranberry Wellness Center/God’s Little Garden presented by Eric Philson from the Northwest Pennsylvania Growers Cooperative (NWPAGC).
Eric explained that there are 18 farmers in the Cooperative all living and growing within Venango and the surrounding counties. He gave a very thorough overview of the guidelines for NWPAGC and the quality of the food that these farmers were selling. We were thankful to learn that there are folks locally who were committed to producing naturally grown, GMO-free meat, eggs, dairy and produce. .
The purpose of the meeting was to inform local folks about the NWPAGC and the availability of obtaining new CSA shares for the 2014 growing season. Although we grow most of our own food, we were interested in learning how to connect with NWPAGC and how a CSA functions. We were also excited to learn that we would be able to purchase those things which we do not grow ourselves through NWPAGC’s web store.
NWPAGC offers CSA pickups in over 14 locations including two local stops, God’s Little Garden in Cranberry and The Witherup House Bed and Breakfast in Franklin. You can contact NWPAGC at www.nwpagrowers.com or 724-662-1231.

Curve Balls, Monkey Wrenches and Brand New Babies!!

When we last departed, I was puttering through the month making cheese, noodles and soup. We were dealing with  frigid temperatures, frozen water and life in Northwestern PA in January. In the past week, things just got REALLY crazy!
On Saturday we headed to the barn in the morning to start the mid-winter goat checks. We gave shots to the new babies, trimmed hooves and started a five day course of Di-Methox for the prevention of coccidiosis. After a very cold hour in the barn, we were thankful that we didn’t breed everyone this summer. Our new babies are growing quickly; they have tripled their birth weight in less than a month.
Later that morning, Ryan and his buddy, Rob came to help KC run some electric, then insulate and drywall in the storage room…remember, the project we started when we found the dead mouse? As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.” In just a few hours we had a finished wall in the storage room after almost 12 years.
In the meantime, we had noticed that our water pressure was getting seriously bad…so the guys took apart a couple of pipes and realized that the supply line from the well to the house was nearly occluded…groan. Not much we could do at that point, so we headed off to our date night and waited for Monday morning to call The Well Guy.
On Sunday after church, we celebrated birthdays for two of our local grandkids…Eli turned nine and Tristian was turning seven year old. Crazy how fast life flies. Later that evening, we learned that grandbaby #10 would be making her appearance soon…her Momma was in labor. Hard to sleep that night 😉
Bright and early Monday morning, KC called The Well Guy…he gave us a few suggestions of things to try before he made a service call…we limped through Monday with dribbling water.
At 6:36 pm, Monday, Maggie Ann made her entrance into the world. We are so thankful for answered prayers and a successful VBAC for Momma.
Tuesday dawned with no results from the water fix suggestions, so it was back to the phone to call  The Well Guy…the end result, the well pump was dead and needed replaced. This is the third pump in the past 12 years…I venture to say that with all the fuss about the environment, the government would be better off forcing manufacturers to make quality goods with replaceable metal parts instead of this plastic junk with electronic components that barely last past the limited warranty.
It’s been a pretty wild week…a couple of nights we just popped lids off of veggie jars and ate simply.  Our canned meat makes speedy soups or quickie dinners. My favorite fall back plan is tossing meat and potatoes in the little roaster for an hour or so…just enough time to run to the barn, water the goats and give them medicine, gather eggs from the hens and get the mail. With a jar of sprouts for salad, we were able to do the winter locavore thing with a minimum of fuss.
The rest of the week is busy also…we laughed that we were wishing winter would slow down, as we have too many projects to complete before spring.
Until later, Paula

This Might Get Ugly!!

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/21/us-energy-us-propane-idUSBREA0K1I920140121

freezingcold

Has anyone else heard about a propane shortage? Nothing in our illustrious News-Derrick and no calls from my propane provider, which I am told they were supposed to make.

Recent calls  to our propane carrier have revealed:
There is No propane!!
YES, you are on The List…you and 800 other people.
There probably won’t be any propane until April.
Sorry about your luck.

Too bad the propane producers care more about profits than they do about U.S. citizens freezing to death.

 

Soup and Bread

One of our favorite meals on the Ridge is soup with home made bread. We’re not fussy, we like all kinds of soup: chicken noodle, easy veggie soup, cream of broccoli (or cauliflower), potato, tomato, beef barley and even borscht. There is usually a pot of some kind of soup in our fridge for quick and easy meals.

Since tomorrow is our dairy farm run, I decided to scrub out the fridge and use up the rest of our milk from last week. A quick batch of mozzarella and a pot of cream of broccoli soup made short work of the excess. Soup always begs for bread, so I tossed some ingredients in the Kitchen Aid and whirled up a batch of whole wheat.

Inspired by one of those fancy food posts on Facebook, I decided to make bread bowls for our soup. I used my smallest Pyrex storage containers, greased and turned up-side-down on a cookie sheet.

BreadBowls

2014-01-15BroccolisoupCream of broccoli soup is a perfect, mid-winter, locavore dish that utilizes the goofy side shoots that broccoli produces after it sets its main head. The variety I planted last year was a free sample from the Mother Earth News Fair called De Cicco. It is an heirloom broccoli that grows a small central head and prolific side spears. I was still harvesting broccoli spears when the freeze finally won. I sorted the spears into larger florets for eating and the smaller florets with longer stems I labeled “soup.” I froze these in 2 or 3 cups to a bag, and that’s what I use for my soup.

2014-01-15soupbowlThe result may not look like a magazine photo shoot, but we all know those pictures aren’t real food. 🙂

 

Until next time, Paula

Pasta Anyone?

January is also a good month for trying new things on the Ridge. I have been making my own pasta for years but a couple of my friends expressed interest in learning what I did, so we scheduled a pasta making day.
The purpose of our session today was to decide which pasta maker these ladies preferred, the manual Pasta Queen or the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment. We also tested a couple of different flours, Montana Wheat’s Prairie Gold Premium 100% whole wheat and a whole wheat pastry flour milled locally at Frankferd Farms. I would like to share with you our personal assessments.

pastaqueenMy Pasta Queen is a manual machine and  was purchased for me as a Christmas gift over 25 years ago. This brand is made in Italy and is all stainless steel. The pasta maker consists of a series of rollers and cutters in a single unit with a removable crank. The unit clamps on to a table top and is operated by the manual crank. By moving the crank from one slot to another, you are able to roll the pasta flat and cut two different sizes of pasta, a flat noodle and a thin spaghetti-like pasta. The starting price for this type of pasta maker is about $30-40. The price escalates with newer models because they have may include other attachments. I have tried the newer models but I prefer this simple one-piece design. The newer ones had removable attachments and they tended to fall off during the rolling process and for my money, didn’t add much value to the machine.
KApastamakerMy Kitchen Aid pasta maker was a gift from my daughter and son-in-law last Christmas. The basic pasta maker is a set of three attachments: the roller, a flat noodle cutter and a thin spaghetti cutter. The attachments bolt to the front of the Kitchen Aid mixer and are powered by the mixer. The cost of these three pieces runs about $225.00. There are other pasta attachments available for an additional cost.

Both machines use the basic pasta recipe: 1 egg per approximately 1 cup of flour. We started our experiment by mixing 1 dozen eggs using the Kitchen Aid whisk, then we added Montana Wheat flour to batch #1 using the dough hook. With our second dozen eggs, we used FF Whole Wheat pastry flour. Using a bread knife, we cut the dough into manageable pieces about 3 to 4 inches in diameter and an inch thick. We dusted them lightly with flour and set them aside.

The results of our findings were as follows:
Pasta Queen received high marks for its ease of use. We liked the fact that the entire pasta process (rolling and cutting) could be accomplished just by moving the crank, unlike the Kitchen Aid which required us to remove each attachment and replace it with a new attachment for each step of the process. When I have used this previously, I solved this problem by rolling ALL of my pasta first and then changing pieces and doing all of the cutting second. It’s not really a deal breaker but does mean that you handle the dough more times.
We liked the sound of the old Pasta Queen, like the comforting squeak of Gramma’s old rocker. The Kitchen Aid has a high pitched whine that I find particularly annoying. We agreed that the Pasta Queen would be more family friendly as we could carry on a conversation as we rolled and cut noodles. And the added plus of no electric use was also considered.
As far as flours went, the Montana  100% wheat flour produced a smooth dough that we could roll easily with either machine. We were able to produce thinner sheets of dough and longer strands of noodles with this flour. Conversely, the FF whole wheat pastry flour made a coarse dough that crumbled when we tried to roll it. The addition of more egg helped somewhat, but the strands where short and choppy and we had trouble getting them thin enough.

At the end of the morning, we had filled my clothes drying rack with several sizes and textures of pasta…the taste test will have to wait for another day. But both ladies decided that for all of the Kitchen Aid’s bells and whistles, they preferred the basic old-fashioned Pasta Queen for making home made pasta. The Kitchen Aid just did not produce six times better results for its six times higher price tag.

noodlesdrying Until next time, Paula

 

Planning and Preparation

tombstoneJanuary is usually the month when not much happens on the farm so we use this time for planning and preparation.

Some of the things we do include:
Looking back at the previous year and seeing what did not get finished on our To-Do list.
Making a new To-Do list and posting it on our kitchen cabinet.
Preparing for our visit to our accountant.
Taking a freezer/canned good inventory and determining what we need to plant this year.
Mapping our gardens and checking our seed inventory.
Catching up with friends that we never get to see during planting/harvesting season.
Teaching- this is our primary time for teaching cheese making classes.

This year our January project includes finishing a wall in our storage room. We have talked about doing this for years but this year it got bumped to top priority when we realized that “somewhere” under the shelves and totes, there was a dead mouse.
After moving EVERYTHING to find said mouse, hubby decided that he might as well undertake the long needed project. We are under a time constraint this year as we have company coming the beginning of February…maybe a bit of pressure is a good thing.

Until next time, Paula