Friday, July 31, 2009

Everyone Loves Free Range Chicken

With 175 potentially delicious girls out on pasture it was only a matter of time before all the skunks, raccoons, red fox, hawks and dogs came out for a dinner of chicken. We lost a few girls two nights in a row and knew we needed some added protection for our precious free range chickens. Enter Kitty our wonderful Great Pyrenees momma.

Although we have trained many of her babies to guard chickens we have not tried to put grown dogs in with the chickens for fear of the exercise being misunderstood as a chicken banquet beyond their wildest imagination. Kitty has been charged with caring for cattle for years.

Well desperate situations called for desperate measures and we decided to try Kitty out with the girls for added protection at night. What we found in the morning was Kitty surrounded by chickens who seemed calm and alive but a beautiful Kitty with the strong stench from an angry and thankfully disappointed skunk.

She has been out with the chickens for 2 weeks now and we have not lost a single chicken to predators although we have detected skunk scent each and every morning.

Stop by anytime and take a look at Kitty doing her job faithfully and diligently.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Simple Living Through Ironing (yes, you read that right)

As I tackled a mountain of ironing recently, I thought about how, in a roundabout way, ironing could fall into our Simple Living category.

At first glance, of course, it seems obvious that the simplest way to iron is to....avoid ironing! You could buy clothes and linens that don't require pressing, or you could pay a dry cleaning shop or a maid to do the task for you. There is nothing wrong with any of those options, but I would contend that doing your own ironing can also be a way to promote simplicity in your life.

First, there is the fact that ironing is one of those tasks that allows for introspection. In my busy and often noisy household, I find I value work that allows me to spend time in thought. It's hard to set aside time to sit and think, knowing as I do the length of my To Do list, but as ironing is a job that needs to be done anyway, I enjoy the time to consider, ponder, and mentally unwind while I stand at the ironing board. Watching the iron steam and press the fabric is calming in a way, and may also help you get the wrinkles out of whatever problems or ideas your mulling over in your mind!

Second, ironing is a simple way to add beauty and enjoyment to your home. A pretty cloth or placemats on the dinner table can make even the simplest fare seem festive, and nicely ironed cloth napkins are beautiful as well as being better for the environment than paper. Crisply ironed clothes look good and wear well. And you really can't beat the simple luxury of sliding in between freshly ironed cotton sheets at the end of a long day.

Third is the simple satisfaction of a job well done. There is often more joy to be found in the fruits of our own labor than in something accomplished by somebody else.

It seems that in many ways simplicity has much to do with your state of mind. Household tasks like ironing or hanging out the wash can be seen as mindless drudgery, or embraced as a source of simple enjoyment. If simplicity is about slowing down, paring down, and savoring life moment by moment, perhaps the way we approach our regular duties is a key component to simple living.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Humanely Raised, Pastured Veal

As the New York Times article trumpeted in "Veal to Love, Without the Guilt," there is finally a way to enjoy veal without the guilt of knowing that the meat on your plate came from an animal that lived in the most deplorable conditions practiced.

When our cow boarding program began to grow, we found ourselves with several male dairy calves and began to feel guilt of another kind. It seemed that the only option for these calves was to take them to the local livestock market, but as we began to wonder what would become of them we decided to keep them on the farm and to find a way to raise these calves under humane conditions and market them as pasture raised veal.

Continuing with our dictates that all of our animals live according to our Rules of Freedom, we began to get a clearer picture of how to raise these male calves.

We wanted to keep the calves:

Free from unnecessary fear and distress:
so we ensure conditions and care that limit stress, pain, injury and disease including rapid diagnoses and treatment;

Free of hunger and thirst: so we give the calves ready access to fresh water and a diet that maintains full health and vigor;

Free from unnecessary discomfort: so we provide an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area, sufficient space and proper facilities;

Free to express normal behavior: so we provide company of the animals' own kind and raise them the old fashioned way, with their mothers, out on pasture.

You can have confidence that our veal comes from calves we raised humanely and healthily, in accordance with the rules outlined above. If you have other questions about our pastured veal or any other grass fed meat we raise, please feel free to ask us. We have all cuts available in the store and as usual we stock all cuts at the Franklin Farmer's Market.

Here is one of my favorite recipes for pastured veal chops from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook, On the Grill: Adventures in Fire and Smoke.

Wood-grilled pastured veal chops are perfect fare for special occasions. Here the delicate flavor of the veal is enhanced with a marinade of olive oil and Mediterranean herbs, then finished with a silky demi-glace. Recommended wine pairing: Merlot.

1 cup red wine
1/4 cup veal demi-glace
3 fresh rosemary sprigs plus 2 Tbs. roughly chopped rosemary, plus more sprigs for garnish
3 fresh thyme sprigs plus 2 Tbs. roughly chopped thyme, plus more sprigs for garnish
1/4 cup olive oil
6 pastured veal chops, each 1 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 to 2 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

To make a rosemary demi-glace, in a small saucepan over high heat, combine the wine and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the demi-glace until smooth. Set the pan over low heat, add the 3 rosemary and thyme sprigs, and simmer until the mixture is reduced slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Strain through a sieve into another small saucepan; discard the herbs. Keep the demi-glace warm on the stovetop.

In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, chopped rosemary and thyme. Place the veal chops in a shallow dish and generously season with salt and pepper. Pour the herbed oil over the meat and turn to coat well. Cover and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate. Grill the veal chops directly over medium-high heat, turning once, until nicely grill-marked and charred, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Move the chops to indirect heat, cover, and grill until firm to the touch and cooked to your liking. Transfer the chops to a large serving platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes.

Rewarm the demi-glace if needed. Add the butter cubes, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Strain any accumulated meat juices into the demi-glace. Garnish the chops with rosemary and thyme sprigs and spoon the sauce over the chops, or pass the chops at the table with the sauce on the side.

Serves 6.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Steakhouse Burgers from Grass Fed Beef

What makes steakhouse burgers so much better than those made at home? Why do our burgers lack those seemingly elusive qualities of the perfect burger? In my opinion those qualities include deeply charred, beefy flavor and a richness without the slick waxiness that mars most burgers made with beef that is overly fatty. You want a burger that is as juicy and rich as those found in the best steak house burgers.

Organic Cooking: Steakhouse Burgers from Grass Fed Beef

1-2 slices bread (crusts removed) and cut into 1/2 inch pieces about 1 cup
1/4 cup milk
1.5lb grass fed ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 medium garlic cloves minced or pressed through garlic press
Olive oil
4 rolls or buns

1. Place bread in small bowl, add milk, and let mixture sit until saturated, about 5 minutes. Using fork, mash bread and milk until they form smooth paste. Break up beef into small pieces in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, garlic and bread paste. Using a fork or hands, lightly knead together so that ingredients are well incorporated and mixture forms cohesive mass. Divide meat into 4 equal portions. Using hands, toss each portion of meat back and forth to form a loose ball, then gently flatten each ball into 3/4 inch thick patty.

2. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, about 100 briquettes) and burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes. Build a modified two-level fire by arranging coals over half of grill, leaving the other half empty and making sure coals are in an even layer. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with a grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are medium hot.

3. Lightly dip a wad of paper towels in olive oil; holding wad with tongs, wipe cooking grate. Grill burgers on hot side of grill, uncovered, until well seared on first side, 2-4 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip burgers and continue grilling about 3 minutes for medium-well or 4 minutes for well-done. While burgers grill, toast buns on the cooler side of the grill, rotating buns as necessary to toast evenly. Serve burgers on toasted buns.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tips for Better Charcoal Grilling

1. Use enough charcoal. There is no sense spending $50.00 on grass fed steaks and then steaming them over an inadequate fire. The size of your grill, the amount of food being cooked and the desired intensity of the fire are all factors in decided how much charcoal to use. You need a fire that is slightly larger than the space on the cooking grate occupied by the food. the higher you pile the charcoal, and therefore the closer it is to the cooking grate,, the more intense the fire will be.

2. Make sure the coals are covered with fine, gray ash before you start to grill. Fine, gray ash is a sign that the coals are fully lit and hot.

3. Once the coals are ready, set the cooking grate in place and let it heat up for five minutes. Once the grate is hot, scrape it clean with a grill brush.

4. Don't use the cover when grill. It can impart an off-flavor to foods. If you need to trap heat to cook something through, cover the food with a disposable aluminum pan or pie plate.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Cheep off the Old Block

With our eggs from pastured free range chickens in such high demand we have made the decision to increase our egg production. We have ordered 100 Buff Orpington chicks and will bring in 100 Rhode Island Reds and 100 Plymouth Rock chicks.

Our Buffs arrived on Thursday and are settling in to their home nicely. One constant concern with baby chicks is suffocation. The chicks pile together in a corner and suffocate the smaller chicks that tend to pile in first. During a nightly check on the babies I thought I saw a small chick behind sticking out of a hole in a brick placed in the booder to keep critters out. When I picked up the brick thinking I would be prying a dead baby from a hole I found a pleasant surprise, two more babies resting comfortably in each hole.

Thankfully, all three girls were comfy and cozy and seemed quite miffed that I had disturbed them.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Begin an Organic Garden with a Simple Step

Seasoned gardeners often remark that the secret to a good organic garden is to constantly add to the soil and try new things, year after year. As a novice gardener, I was encouraged by that fact. For too long I was daunted by my perception that one had to get up a great garden right off the bat, and that all sorts of advanced knowledge was required to pick a spot, till and prepare the dirt, plant things in the proper groupings at the proper times and in the proper rotation, after which one must be prepared to invest incredible amounts of time tending and coddling each tiny seedling.  This didn't seem like simple living, it seemed like stress!

Certainly the ideal situation would be to create a garden just like I described, but many of us don't have that kind of time. Far better, I submit, is the willingness to just get started. You can learn as you go. Every year you can add to your soil, try something new, and learn from your mistakes. A garden can be a process, which greatly simplifies the whole undertaking.

Many great books have been written on the subject of starting a garden (Square Foot Gardening
and Fresh Food from Small Spaces come to mind) and I recommend you read them as you get a chance and take the time to digest the information contained therein. Meanwhile, however, you can just get started.

Have a balcony or patio? Why not start a tomato plant or toss some bean seeds in a pot of dirt? Maybe you could start a small compost pile in an out of the way spot in your yard, or use scrap lumber to build a small raised garden bed. If you have an established flower bed, why not add a few seeds in between your plants and grow some lettuce, spinach, or kale in there too? As this is a particularly busy season in my life, I've simplified my garden to consist of mostly beans, and mostly planted in among other things. I even have some beans climbing a makeshift trellis made from an old broken baby gate!

In future posts, we hope to cover organic gardening topics that will be helpful to people new to growing things as well as to those who have been at this for years. Meanwhile, we encourage you to take a small and simple first step and see how growing food can be a rewarding part of simple living!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bee Hives in the Organic Garden

A great desire of mine has been to have bee hives in the garden to help with pollination. Bee-keeping is a great component of sustainable farming and organic gardening because the pollination keeps plants hardy and helps seeds be more productive for the next year's planting.  As a side bonus, raw honey has incredible health benefits and is delicious!

Finally our wonderful bee keeper Barry Richards helped that dream to come true. Late one night (the bees like to travel at night) he arrived with three hives wrapped up with lovely red bows.  I can at least pretend they were red bows.

The hives were set on metal sheeting and some wood to keep the hives tilted to ensure that water does not pool under or in the hives.  The hives are unwrapped.

The bees are doing great and keeping the plants in the garden pollinated. We hope to get pollen traps on the hives soon and will be selling the pollen in our farm shop. You can buy Barry's raw honey in the store now for $7.00 a pint and $13.00 a quart. We are looking forward to Barry teaching some classes on basic beekeeping for those interested in keeping their own bees to further their homesteading or organic gardening interests.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Delicious Homemade Raw Milk Vanilla Ice Cream

Pictured at right is the beginning of Debbie's Vanilla Ice Cream base!! Six golden egg yolks from our free range chickens!

The best vanilla ice cream is made with vanilla beans that have been steeped in custard to release their maximum flavor. If you haven't tried the Ugandan Vanilla Beans from the farm shop, this is the perfect opportunity to use them! If vanilla beans are unavailable, simply omit the steeping and add 2 tsp. vanilla extract to the chilled custard before freezing.

Delicious Homemade Raw Milk Ice Cream


3 cups half-and-half (you can use half raw milk and half raw milk cream to make your own healthy half and half!)
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks from a free range chicken

  1. Pour the half-and-half into a heavy saucepan. Place the vanilla bean on a work surface. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the bean in half lengthwise. Using the knife tip, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, then add the seeds and bean halves to the half-and-half. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  2. Return the saucepan to the stovetop over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until blended. Form a kitchen towel into a ring and place the bowl on top to prevent it from moving. Gradually pour the hot half-and-half mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
  4. Return the mixture to the same saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the custard to boil.
  5. Pour the custard through a medium-mesh sieve set over a clean bowl. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. Transfer the custard to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days, before serving. Makes about 5 cups; serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library Series, Ice Creams & Sorbets, by Sarah Tenaglia (Time-Life Books, 1996).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How to Keep the Girls Happy

A large part of my job on the farm is to keep the girls happy, all 175 of them. Our "girls" are our Rhode Island, Delaware and Red Comet free range chickens. I think it is one of the most rewarding jobs on the farm. Here is how I keep them happy and laying great, golden yolked eggs. One note, these girls have plenty of water and feed in their feeders.

The first thing we do to keep the girls happy is to just show up. The girls come running when they hear my truck appoaching, searching for treats. You can't help but have a great feeling when 175 little birds come running to see what you have brought for them.

Next comes the certified organic grains, nutrient dense corn and wheat. It goes into the trough with a smattering of oyster shells and fish meal.
Water tops off the grain and keeps the corn and wheat soaked and the fermentation begins to take place and is finished by the following morning as they clean up the last of the soak grains.

Next, bring out the raw milk. Even in the jug the girls scramble to get at the clabbered white stuff. I clabber a gallon of milk every other day for a treat for the girls and a little extra protein. This is definitely the highlight of their lives. Everyone knows you need some milk with your cereals.
For a final little treat I pour some water on the ground, which they really enjoy. Now it is time to collect eggs, thank the girls and head home to get the eggs washed, packed and in the fridge for our valued customers to pick up and take home.
The bottom line on keeping the girls happy is to keep them out on pasture and give them all the things they need; lots of room to roam, certified organic grain from nutrient dense soil, fresh water and plenty of it and clabbered raw milk as a treat. They don't really ask for much but I think the results speak for themselves, rich orange yolked eggs with plenty of flavor.  You can't beat free range chickens for healthy eggs and entertainment!