Monday, June 29, 2009

Made With Raw Milk: Yogurt

Although we think few things are more delightful than a tall glass of fresh milk, we also enjoy other foodstuffs made from raw milk. One of the simplest things to do with milk is make yogurt.

As with many recipes, options and opinions for how best to make your own yogurt abound on the internet and in books. You may need to experiment a bit to suit your own tastes, equipment and time constraints.

After some trial and error, my favorite way to make raw milk yogurt is to begin with a starter of actual yogurt. Powdered starter cultures are available, but I find that using regular yogurt to start with works well. You'll need to use a plain (unflavored and unsweetened) yogurt as your starter. You can borrow half a cup of yogurt from a friend who makes their own, buy some fresh yogurt from the farm, or get some from the store.

A word of caution about using store-bought yogurt as a starter: many store yogurts, even organic brands, contain few live cultures or add fillers like pectin. When selecting a yogurt for your starter, make sure you get one that lists "live active cultures" - the more the better! See if you can find one without anything in the ingredient list other than cultured milk, and get whole milk yogurt if you can. If the whey has separated, you'll need to stir it down into the whole container before using it to start your yogurt.

To make the yogurt, heat about a quart of raw milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the milk from sticking to the pan, until the milk is steaming and slightly frothy at the edges, but not boiling. Remove from heat, and allow to cool to about 110 - 116 degrees (that's about the temperature of warm bath water - like the temperature of water you'd use to make something with yeast). Next, stir your starter yogurt into the warm milk until it's well dissolved, and put into an incubator.

I use a Salton Yogurt Maker to incubate yogurt, because I found one on eBay a few years ago for about $10.  Although I haven't tried them personally, I've heard that individual serving yogurt incubators and yogurt makers from other brands are also good.  If you don't have a yogurt maker or can't afford to invest in one, you can use any number of things to make sure your milk mixture doesn't drop below 110 degrees - a quick Google search suggests a styrofoam cooler filled with warm water, a crockpot set on low, or simply wrapping the milk mixture in a towel. Whatever method you choose, prepare to keep the milk warm for about 6 hours. If you like a really sour yogurt, you can leave it longer, up to 24 hours. After that point, your yogurt will be set and you can let it come to room temperature and then put it in your refrigerator.

Make sure to reserve a half cup of the yogurt to use for your next batch before you add fruit or honey to the yogurt, or enjoy it plain!

Have you ever tried making yogurt? What is your favorite method?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Book Review: In Defense of Food

After you read The Omnivore's Dilemma, you might find yourself wondering what on earth you should be eating. Fear not, Michael Pollan wrote a follow-up book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, that offers thoughtful, practical and well-researched suggestions to answer your food choice questions.  In short, Pollan recommends you eat local, eat whole food, and support sustainable farming.  We agree!

Pollan boils his research down to seven words: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The book explains these maxims further, and exposes the many despicable things the "food" industry does to sell their products even at the expense of your health. Furthermore, Pollan's interviews with top food and nutrition researchers in the government and private sector reveal how bad the science is in that area and point out, as Pollan notes, "there is a lot more religion in science than you might expect."

Some of the guidelines Pollan arrived at include:
  • "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food" (Berry Bubblegum Bash Flavored Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt Tubes anyone?)
  • "Don't eat anything incapable of rotting"
  • "Avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable, c) more than five in number, or that include d) high fructose corn syrup"
  • "Avoid food products that make health claims" (when Cocoa Puffs are endorsed as being whole grain "heart healthy" food, or when margarine is labeled "trans fat free!" you should pause and reflect)
And, my personal favorite:
  • "Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does."
This book is worth reading if you are interested in natural living, whole food, the Eat Local movement, or sustainable farming. Like Pollan's first book, In Defense of Food is a well written, engaging, quick read that will serve as a helpful reference.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Organic Gardening: An Unexpected Weeding Buddy

The other morning I was going about my duties, minding my own business, when I had this intense feeling. I don't know how many of you get this overwhelming dread that your cow is not where she should be. I suppose I could liken it to a new mother who use to be a deep sleeper that could be roused by no mere fire alarm, but once that precious little bundle arrives every little cough or giggle has her up and sprinting like a gazelle. We just KNOW something is not right. That is how it is when you have a cow in your yard, every once in a while I get this feeling in my gut, and I just KNOW that Sweet Pea is getting into trouble.

Well, sure enough a glance out the window proved my intuitions are still top notch. Sweet Pea was in my garden and chowing down! I ran out to chase her out of my glorious, although weedy, paradise but as I got closer I noticed that she seemed to be eating the weeds. Surely not! Not with an appetite like that! Talk about a bull in a china shop, Sweet Pea is anything but delicate. But as I stood watching, ever ready to jump and run, she never once eat anything but the weeds. We weeded together for about 1 hour while she just munched on Johnson grass (her favorite) and other sundry weeds. Here are some pictures for the unbelievers among you. Did you ever see such a guilty look on a cow?

I love it when the benefits of homesteading overlap: here we have organic gardening and sustainable farming in a perfect symbiotic relationship!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sustainable Farming: Wheat Harvest has begun

The 2009 wheat harvest has begun. After plenty of waiting, watching and measuring moisture content we are ready to reap the fruits of our labors.  One of the joys of our homesteading journey is seeing the crops come in!

If you would like to learn more about homesteading and sustainable farming and get a glimpse of the harvesting of the wheat this year, please feel free to come by the shop and we will take you out to the field. The harvest will only last a week so make your way to the farm this week and catch a glimpse of Sam and Alfred harvesting and Ron discing in the residue from the wheat. We can't forget to feed the wonderful microbes who have been busy converting nutrients for our wheat to take in. The process is wonderful and well worth the trip out. The Shop is closed every Monday but we will be back Tuesday morning at 9:00am.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Simple Living: Why Don't We Have Patience Today?

How many times have you seen children screaming in a store "I want it, and I want it NOW!" We glance at the parent as if to say "what are you doing to your child, can't you teach him better manners or at the very least, patience?"

Immediately following our corrective glance we proudly march over to the produce isle and pluck tomatoes, cantaloupe and peaches from their bins. Does it really matter that it is January and the produce is coming from Chile?

As we consider simple living, we must cultivate patience to appreciate the rhythm of the seasons and reap the benefits of health and peacefulness. 

A question about patience was posed to Elder Paisios of Mount Athos and his answer is what we need to hear again and again.
The current situation does not help people to become patient. In the past, life was peaceful and people were peaceful and had the endurance of the patient. Today haste has invaded the world and people have become impatient. In the old days people knew they could eat tomatoes by the end of June, for example, and they were not concerned about it. They would wait until August to eat a watermelon. They knew in what season they would eat melons or figs. But today they will import tomatoes from Egypt earlier rather than eat oranges which contain the same vitamins. You may tell someone, "Come on, why don't you wait and find something else to eat now?" But no, he'd rather go to Egypt and get tomatoes. When people in Crete realized that, they started constructing hothouses in order to grow tomatoes faster. Now they construct hothouses everywhere in order to have tomatoes available in the winter. They will work themselves to death to build hothouses, to grow all kinds of foods and make them available throughout the year, so that people will not have to wait.But let's say that this is not that bad. But they go even further. The tomatoes are green in the evening and in the morning they have turned into plump red tomatoes! I scolded an officer of state once regarding this matter. "Having hothouses is one thing," I said, "but using hormones to ripen fruits, tomatoes and so on, overnight, is going too far because people who are hormone sensitive will be harmed." They have destroyed the animals too: chickens, cattle, they are all affected. They use hormones to make a forty-day old animal appear like it is six months old. Can anyone who eats this meat benefit from it? They give hormones to the cows and they produce more milk than the farmers can distribute to market. As a result, the prices fall and producers go on strike, they pour the milk on the streets and in the meantime, we drink milk with hormones. Whereas if we left everything the way God made it, all would go well and people would have pure milk to drink. Notice how hormones make everything tasteless. Tasteless people, tasteless things, everything is tasteless. Even life itself has no taste. Nowadays, young people have lost their zest for life. You ask them, "What will give you peace?" "Nothing," they reply. Such vigorous young men and nothing pleases them. What has happened to us? We believe we will correct God with our inventions. We turn night into day, so that the hens will lay eggs! And have you seen these eggs? If God had made the moon shine like the sun, people would have gone mad. God created the night so that we may take some rest, and look at us!We have lost our peace of mind. The hothouses, the use of hormones in produce and in animals have made people impatient. In the old days, we knew that we could reach a certain place on foot in a certain amount of time. Those with stronger legs would get there a bit sooner. Later, we invented carriages, then cars, aeroplanes and so on. We try constantly to discover faster and faster means of transportation. There is an aeroplane which covers the distance between France and America in three hours. But when someone goes from one climate to the other with such great speed it's not good, even the sudden change of time itself can be confusing. Hurry, hurry...Gradually man will enter a projectile and with the squeeze of a trigger, this projectile will be launched only to burst open at some point and allow a madman to emerge! Where is all this taking us? We are heading straight to the madhouse!

Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels, With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Organic Cooking: Grilled Top Sirloin with Herb Butter and Garlic

This is a great time of year to take your organic cooking outdoors! The farm shop is stocked with delicious grass fed beef in a variety of cuts to make your summer grilling even better. If you're used to conventional meat, you won't believe the difference in grass fed beef. It's leaner, healthier, and infinitely more flavorful! Make sure to stop by the farm or leave us a comment to let us know how you like it!

Organic Cooking: Grilled Top Sirloin with Herb Butter and Garlic

two 10 ounce grass fed sirloin steaks
two garlic cloves, peeled
one tablespoon fresh thyme
one tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
one tablespoon shallots, chopped
two tablespoons lemon juice
dash Worcestershire sauce
half pound butter, melted
salt and fresh black pepper to taste
fresh thyme for garnish

1. Sprinkle steaks with salt and pepper, then set aside.
2. Poach garlic cloves in boiling water until tender, about fifteen minutes. Drain well and puree with a mortar and pestle. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.
3. Mix thyme, parsley, shallots, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce with the butter. On a sheet of parchment paper, form butter into rolls and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Preheat grill (note: you can also make this recipe using a broiler if inclement weather interrupts your outdoor plans!). Brush steaks with clarified butter and cook until desired doneness. Place garlic puree and thyme leaves on each plate, top with steak, and then place two slices of herb butter on top.
5. Enjoy!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Simple Living: Heartfelt Gifts

The simple act of giving gifts - for birthdays, weddings, baby showers, or to thank a hostess - is often far from simple. Your desire to give a gift that expresses your affection and blesses the recipient may be complicated by financial limitations, time constraints, or a genuine desire to avoid encouraging materialism and overconsumption.  Gift giving can be in line with simple living if you apply some creativity to the process.

Although everyone appreciates an extravagant gift now and then, often a simple gift that shows some forethought and care will be better received than a hastily purchased off-hand present. Slow down and consider who will get your gift: what are her likes and dislikes? What are his particular needs? Do you have any skills or resources that would bless that person in a particular way?

Simple Living: Gifts of Service

Perhaps you have more time than money. Gifts of service are wonderful indeed! Perhaps you could give a gift of babysitting to new parents, or offer to bring a dish to help a party hostess. Maybe your elderly relative would appreciate you spending an afternoon doing some maintenance work or weeding the garden. Your spouse might enjoy a "date night" at home with a specially prepared meal served by candlelight after the children go to sleep. In our busy world, time is a gift not to be taken lightly!

Homemade Gifts that Support Organic Gardening and Sustainable Farming

If you want to give a gift to a person who seems to have enough "stuff" you might consider a perishable present such as a homemade pie baked with local fruits, a jar of honey from a local bee keeper, or a bottle of vanilla made from Ugandan vanilla beans! Include a note describing where you got the materials and you might also interest your recipient to take part in the local economy and support sustainable farming!

You may have skills that lend themselves to creating handmade gifts too. Could a gentleman on your list use a scarf this winter hand-knitted with wool from local sheep? Could you embroider a baby bib with a new arrival's initials? Could you use stamps and fabric paint to embellish inexpensive storebought dishtowels or aprons? Could you make a wreath with dried flowers or fresh greens?  Your yard or local farm is a great source of materials.

Don't forget to look around your garden for gift ideas. Bouquets of cut flowers like zinnias, phlox and daisies make lovely hostess gifts, as do fresh vegetables from your organic garden. New homeowners might like a housewarming gift of plant cuttings or bulbs thinned out from your established flowerbeds. Herbs are easily grown in pots and provide a gift that keeps on giving for months!  You can encourage your family and friends to try organic gardening with your gift, and offer to help them with what you've learned about natural living.

What are some simple, heartfelt gifts you have given or recieved? We'd love to hear your ideas!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review: The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a fascinating book about the origins, science, marketing and nutrition of the food we eat. The author, an investigative journalist, followed four different types of meals down to their smallest component parts in our food system to find out the truth about what's in our supermarkets, on our tables, and in our backyards.  His conclusions advocate for sustainable farming, natural living, and the Eat Local movement.

First, he discusses the economics, government policies, and marketing that drive the conventional food system as well as an analysis of the content of that food, it's actual price, and the science that enables us to make about 90% of our diets out of corn. While readers with some interest in natural living will likely be familiar with a lot of the material in this section, you will probably still find it eye-opening.

Next, the narrative turns to conventional organic foods (such as you find at the grocery store, or the health food store) and if you're really getting what you think you are (you probably aren't). Many consumers misunderstand the compromises that conventional organic foods incorporate because of governmental regulations and the economic bottom line. This section of the book is particularly illuminating.

Third, the book covers the Eat Local movement and sustainable farming along the original organic model. This section expands on the nutritional and long-term benefits of natural living and eating a whole food diet, but also digresses to an examination of the animal rights movement.

Finally, Pollan hunted and gathered a meal from around his home in northern California and from his experience readers will learn about the ins and outs of foraging for mushrooms, hunting wild boar, and an ill-fated attempt to collect salt from the San Francisco Bay.  It's always interesting to read about other people's experiments in natural living!

The book is witty, highly engaging, and written in a conversational tone that is informative but never boring or too preachy. Whatever your current level of understanding and conviction about sustainable farming, natural living, whole food, or the Eat Local movement might be, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is a worthwhile read.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Simple Living: Savoring Simple Tasks

One barrier to simple living is our perception that living simply will take longer, cost more, or make us even busier and more stressed out than we were before. Certainly some modern conveniences are helpful, and we wouldn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but in many cases taking a step toward simplicity and natural living offers benefits that serve to reduce the stress of a busy lifestyle.

Consider, for example, the simple act of hanging out the laundry. Some would doubtless argue that the clothes dryer is an indispensable tool, and that its use saves countless hours of drudgery. The dryer is valuable for people living in apartments or homes without yards, or during inclement weather, and can be a convenience even when you do have access to a sunny spot for your clothesline, but taking time out to savor the simple task of hanging clothes also adds value to your life.

Being outside is restorative in itself, and hanging clothes has the sort of rhythm that encourages contemplation. From the vantage point of your clothesline, you can enjoy your garden, observe nature, and unwind in the breeze and sunshine.

Is this picture too idyllic? Perhaps your neighborhood does not allow clotheslines (a ridiculous but common regulation in neighborhood rules!) or perhaps you don't prefer the starchy feel of line-dried socks. We aren't so much advocating a strict return to the labor intensive days of yore as we are encouraging you to think about the possibility of taking time to slow down and enjoy a daily task. Finding the balance between the convenience of multitasking and the satisfaction of slowing down is a personal calculation, but being mindful of the alternatives is a good way to begin.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Whole Food: Ugandan Vanilla Beans

When you have friends who travel to Uganda each year you never know what they will bring home, especially if your friend is Mrs. Carney Farris. This past trip Carney came home with some wonderful treats for our whole food loving customers. Carney trekked through Soroti, Uganda to bring home the most amazing organic vanilla beans! Before the words left her mouth I was already dreaming of all the wonderful things I could do with these beans.

You see, I am a certifiable vanilla addict. I buy only the best vanilla and admit to throwing out imitation vanilla while visiting my mother. I learned long ago the difference quality vanilla can make in cooking and baking. With a cow on the farm and raw milk in abundance I make creme brulee on a fairly regular basis and homemade ice cream is a staple in our home. I also prefer creme anglaise with my cobblers and pies and vanilla cream made from raw milk in my coffee. I put vanilla in my smoothies and it is indispensable in good panna cotta.

There was a time when the vanilla bean was only available to those lucky souls who reside in Mexico due to the fact that the vanilla pod producing orchids and the Melipona bee who did the pollinating were native to Mexico and the magically symbiotic relationship they had could not be reproduced artificially. The French were the first to attempt to grow the vanilla orchid outside Mexico but found that no insect in France could pollinate the flower. Thankfully a 12 year old slave named Edmond Albius invented a way to hand pollinate and the rest is history, delicious history.

The most famous vanilla is made from beans grown in Madagascar but many aficionados believe that Ugandan beans will outshine all other beans. Now you can try it for yourself by purchasing some from our farm shop!

Last night I pulled out my large bottle of vodka (I keep it around to add to my ice cream to keep it from freezer too soon in my ice cream maker - really!) and opened three beans to make my first batch of  homemade vanilla extract. Although I have been purchasing beans from very reputable sources I have never opened beans like these. They were fresh, not dried out and much longer than the usual beans, but what truly amazed me was the amount of seeds inside. The seeds were gummy and the pods were very pliable and smelled amazing.

Here is the most common recipe for making your own homemade vanilla extract.

1 quart vodka or rum
3 Ugandan vanilla beans

Open the beans to expose the seeds and place in a glass jar. Pour in alcohol and shake well. Place the jar in a dark place and shake the jar every couple of days for 8 weeks. I have been told that you can reuse the beans (only the best quality beans) once more.

Here is a great recipe for panna cotta from Williams Sonoma. I was served a similar panna cotta with a thin slice of hazelnut chocolate torte in Italy and it was perfect for a winter desert when no fresh berries are available.

Panna cotta, Italian for “cooked cream,” is a specialty of Italy’s Piedmont region, where these delicate creams have been made since medieval times. The dessert is often accompanied by fresh fruit, as in this recipe.

Organic Cooking with Whole Food: Panna Cotta

1 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup raw milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. homemade vanilla extract
Food coloring, as desired
2 cups mixed fresh berries, such as raspberries, blueberries and blackberries

In a medium bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let stand for 2 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and sugar. Cook, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Slowly add the cream mixture to the gelatin mixture, stirring until smooth. Then add the vanilla and food coloring. Divide the mixture among four 4-oz. decorative molds or ramekins. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or as long as overnight. Just before serving, fill a small bowl with warm water, dip the molds into warm water (do not submerge fully), and run the tip of a knife around the edge to loosen the panna cotta. Invert each mold onto a dessert plate. Garnish with the berries and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How to Get Raw Milk: Cow Sharing

What is the world is cowboarding or cowsharing? That is a question that I have been asked more times than I can count. Here is how it all started for us...

Raw Milk 

From as early as I can remember I could not tolerate dairy of any kind but I accepted that and lived with the inconvenience or pain. Then, in 1994, I heard a woman named Sally Fallon speaking about raw milk. I had never even heard the term "raw milk" before in my life and for two years I pondered her words, delving into still little known world of raw milk. Finally, with two years of research under my belt I borrowed a cow and began to milk her. To my great surprise not only could I tolerate the raw milk but my then 5 year old son absolutely thrived on it.

About the time I had to give the cow back to its owner, we moved to Indiana and of course I had to have a cow of my own. We purchased a Dutch Belted cow and began what seemed like the innocent task of milking our own cow and enjoying her milk. As word got out into the community that we had raw milk, people began to show up at our home asking us to provide them with fresh, straight from the cow, milk. Honestly, I was completely taken aback by the demand and before we knew it we had two more cows and were selling milk to 40 families. I had a few people tell me that I should be labeling the milk with "not for human consumption" stickers and that piqued my curiosity. Why? I had no idea that I was participating in the illegal dealing of a controlled substance but further research led back to the Weston A. Price Foundation where I learned that some people actually frowned on the very idea of drinking milk straight from the cow without intervention from pasteurizers, homogenization machines and the like.

Cow Sharing

After researching the laws in Indiana, which are quite stringent, we decided to sell shares in cows and set up our first cowsharing program. Under our program, people could buy a share in a cow and pay us to board and milk the cow, then pick up a certain number of gallons of milk per month. Well, the state of Indiana made me aware that my subversive activities were still not to their liking and delivered a freshly signed Cease and Desist order. After several meetings and finagling with State officials (who actually turned out to be really nice people, very professional and knowledgeable) we came to quasi-agreement that it was legal to pay a farmer to milk a cow which you purchased, even if you share that cow with others.

Now we have moved back to Tennessee and are planning to set up another program very much like the first. Thankfully, much of the forging we did in Indiana has already been done in Tennessee by Shawn Dady, chapter leader for Tennessee's Weston A. Price Foundation and Tennesseans For Raw Milk. If you are interested in finding out more about our cow boarding program please contact us at 615-654-3276.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Health: Natural Sources of Vitamin A

As with children, cows are susceptible to bouts of pinkeye from time to time. Part of sustainable farming is coming up with natural methods for managing problems like this whenever possible. One of the best natural cures for pinkeye in cattle (though not recommended for human children!) is putting drops of cod liver oil in the cow's eyes. This remedy cures the pinkeye quickly, as the Vitamin A in the cod liver oil promotes healthy eyes.

Vitamin A is available in a variety of natural forms. While the commercial pasteurization process removes vitamins and replaces them with synthetic Vitamins A and D in whole milk, raw milk contains natural Vitamin A among other beneficial vitamins and minerals. Eggs from free range chickens are another good source of Vitamin A, as are dark colored fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Cod liver oil is another good way to add Vitamin A to your diet, but be sure the brand you choose contains natural Vitamin A, not synthetic add-ins.

Choosing natural vitamin sources prevents toxicity and overdose concerns sometimes associated with synthetic vitamins. You don't need to resort to processed "fortified" foods and chemical reproductions of Vitamin A - the best sources are those found in nature.  You can support sustainable farming and your goals for natural living by meeting your family's Vitamin A needs with raw milk, eggs from free range chickens, and produce from local sources or your very own organic garden. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finding Joy in Simple Living

Our culture lends itself to busyness, and often even those of us who are drawn to local sustainable agriculture and natural, organic foods and products can find ourselves rushing through things and hurrying more than we'd like. In the midst of all the important and worthy pursuits that make demands on our time however, it's important to make deliberate choices to slow down and choose simple living now and then.

Slowing down and taking time to savor daily tasks keeps us mindful of the joy of living, and provides a satisfaction that taking a shortcut can't replace. We'd like to share our thoughts on ways you can simplify, slow down, and find more joy in daily things. Our goal is not to cause more stress or leave you strapped for time, but rather to encourage you to spend time with your family, learn a new skill with your children, or just take some well-earned rest.

We hope to make Simple Living an ongoing series of tips and suggestions on a variety of topics. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for future topics, be sure to let us know!