Friday, April 27, 2012

Morels ~ A Northwest Delicacy

This has been a week of morel foraging in our neck of the woods.  I wanted to make a note here to myself to mark the date of the first harvest of the season, this is our first year ever picking morels, our neighbors hunt for them every year and they've shown me what they look like.  Over the years I've read about them and looked at pictures, and have hunted for them on our property, I wanted to find some but had no success except for one time, I found one.  Morels are kind of a mystery, where they will grow, and what conditions they will grow in, they are one of the only mushrooms that are not cultivatable, they need a perfect growing condition of  rain and sun.  Here in the Northwest we are one of the mycological capitols of the world with our rainy climate, many mushrooms grow and  thrive here, especially in the Spring and Fall.

One of our goals in becoming more self sufficient as a family is to learn all about foraging around where we live.  I want to learn to hunt morels in the Spring and chanterelles in the Fall, these are yearly Northwest harvests I want to participate in.  We have so many mushrooms on our property and it would be fun to learn more about them,  either I would need to have someone from the mycological society come out to identify them for me, or I will join the mycological society and go on their walks and learn.  Even if I only know a few mushrooms, it's something fun and free to look forward to each year.  I already know how to identify both morels and chanterelles, as they are some of the more easily identifiable mushrooms.

My youngest daughter Kaley and I went morel hunting the other day, I knew they were ripe when I saw a couple by the entrance to our driveway, as it turned out there was a whole little grove of them right near us,  hidden in the woods coming up under the leaves of alder trees, with fir trees nearby.  They seem to like it where there are lots of leaves and the sun can filter through a little.  It was like an Easter egg hunt, we were so excited as we found one after another, and would exclaim everytime we found one, I found one!!  I found one!! 

From what I've read about morels you want to eat them right away, within a day or two or dehydrate them, you also want to clean them really well.  We cleaned them by filling a bowl with warm water and added a teaspoon of salt, swished them around and then rinsed them in fresh water until it came clean, about 4 times.  You don't eat the stems just the mushroom end, we cut off all the stems and discarded them.  To dry them, we put them in a salad spinner, and then laid them on a clean towel and rolled it up softly to get them good and dry.  Some we dehydrated right away, and the rest we sauteed in butter and garlic and had good bread to eat with them,  along with penne noodles and marinara sauce, it was a delicious meal!

April through June is the season for morels in the Northwest, so there is still plenty of time to hunt for them this Spring.  I know we'll be going out again to see if we can find more of these mysterious and nutrious mushrooms.  Mushrooms that in the gourmet world are a true delicacy!

Monday, April 23, 2012


I can hardly wait until next Wednesday when the bees arrive, my garden doesn't feel the same without them in their corner buzzing about.   I've got two packages coming, each  are three pounds and will have their own queen.  Tomorrow I'll be going into Snohomish to visit Beez Neez, the nearby apiary store where I'll be getting more frames for setting up the hives before they arrive.  I'll also pick up some paint so I can give them a fresh coat of green, they say in our climate green is a good color to paint the hives, because we want our hives to warm in the sun.  The traditional white is great for sunnier and warmer areas of the country where you want the hive to cool, rather than absorb heat.  Any green will do, I have used the same color for the last six years.

The guys at Beez Neez also shared some new information about frames, so after I try them tomorrow I'll discuss more about them.  This will be a busy week getting ready, the bees will arrive just as many of my fruit tree blossoms are opening, and they'll have plenty of dandelions to feast on too.  Over the sunny weekend the dandelions began their annual bloom, and as a beekeeper you have a whole new outlook on dandelions as you watch the bees bring in the pollen from their flowers.  The pollen feeds their young as they grow and mature.  They will also gather pollen from the fruit tree blossoms, and in turn pollinate them for fruit, this year I'm hopeful for a bountiful season, and the bees are at the heart of it all.

This will be my sixth season raising bees, and my 4th season buying them.  I've learned so many lessons the hard way and lost bees along the way.  I have kept journals through each season with records of the successes and failures, and how to solve the problem the next time.  Working with bees over the years and those experiences are what it takes to learn this ancient art. I intend to keep at it and not give up.   One week to get ready!

Monday, April 16, 2012

mozzarella cheese

Good fresh milk is the all important ingredient for making delicious cheese.  This was my first time making mozzarella cheese with our goats milk, it tuned out nice and chewy but lacked the flavor I was hoping for.  I have since found out I can add a little lipase culture for added flavor.  Mozzarella is an easy beginner cheese to make and is great for cooking pizza's and using for lasagnas and omelette's.  Most cheese when it's first made has a fairly bland taste, the taste develops as the cheese ages, and with mozzarella you don't age, it's ready to eat and use right away, this is definitely one of it's virtues

Here's the recipe I used, it's for one gallon of milk.  The recipe is from the book by Mary Jane Toth and is called Goats Produce Too!  The Udder Real Thing

Quick Mozzarella Cheese

1 gal            milk
1 1/4 tsp       citric acid powder
1/4  tsp         liquid rennet or 1/8 rennet tablet
1/2   C         cool water, divided in half

In a stainless or enamel pot, place the cool milk.  Dissolve the citric acid powder into 1/4 cup cool water and add to the milk.  Stir well.  Bring the temperature of the milk to 88 degrees.  Mix the rennet with the other  1/4 cup of cool water and stir into the milk for about 10 seconds.

Allow the milk to sit for 15 minutes to coagulate.  After setting for 15 minutes, the curd should be firm and when you dip your finger into the curds they will break cleanly over your finger and whey will fill the depression where your finger has been.  Cut into 1 inch cubes and let rest for 10 minutes.

Then place the pot of curds into a sink of very hot water and slowly bring the temperature up to 108 degrees.  The curds will shrink during this process, keep the curds at 108 degrees for 35 minutes.  Drain the curds into a colander for 15 minutes.

Save the whey if making ricotta or heat treating the curds in the whey.  When the curds have drained , they are ready to be heat treated to get their stretch.  For the stove-top method, Use a double boiler.  You will need enough hot water or whey to cover the curds. I used the whey. 

Heat the liquid to 150-155 degrees, then place in the curds, which have formed into a mass.  Work quickly as it does not take long int the hot liquid before the curds melt together and become stretchy.  This is an amazing process, which happens very quickly.

Use a large slotted and a large regular spoon and bring the curds out of the liquid, pulling and stretching like you would taffy.  Use your hands or the spoon's to stretch the cheese.

Shape into balls, and place into a brine solution for 10-30 minutes, depending on how salty you like you cheese.  Remove from brine, pat dry or air dry.  Refrigerate cheese for up to 2 weeks.  Freeze for longer storage. 

Brine Solution

2 lbs kosher or canning salt to 1 gallon cold water or
for a smaller batch add 8 oz salt to 1 quart of cold water.
Salt amount can be altered to suit your taste.

Note;  This cheese is great eaten freshly sliced with a slice of tomato, a basil leaf and olive oil drizzled over the cheese.

Bringing the temperature of the milk to 88 degrees

After 15 minutes of setting, the milk coagulates, then place in a sink of hot water and bring the temperature up to 108 degrees, this lets the milk temperature rise slowly.  The curds begin to shrink up and form a mass.
The rinsed curds

Stretching the warmed cheese


There are many different ways to make and form cheese, from presses to molds,  and so many different types of cheeses to try.  It's been fun for me to learn and read all about being a cheese maker, like any artisan's craft, it takes time and many experiences to learn the fine art of turning out truly great cheeses.

This morning I've been making out my order for more cheese supplies, and as I'm looking through Hoegger's goat supply catalog, I spot their cheese presses.  I'm seriously considering buying a cheese press, maybe not today, because I already have a list of needs on the order.  However, Hoegger's has a nice looking one that is maple wood and stainless steel, it has a two hoop cheese press and is ready to use upon arrival.  Considering how much I like things to look nice sitting on my kitchen counter, I'm thinking this may be good investment in my cheese adventures.  I've discussed it with my husband before, and we talked about design and how to build one.  This evening I'll show him the picture and see if we can figure how to make something, or I'll plan for purchasing one. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

making weed mountains and haulin compost

That's basically what I've been doing in the garden, along with planting peas, getting the cold frame up and going, transplanting seedlings into bigger pots, and weeding all the beds.  It's a busy time of year, early Spring.  This is the time to break sod, dig beds and  move last minute perennials and trees.  I've been working on the fruit tree rootstocks, taking divisions and replanting them into a new bed.  The weed piles I've been creating are enormous as I work through the vegetable garden cleaning everything up.  The compost I made last year is top dressing all the beds and creaming everything with nutrition.  We've had sun the last few days and rain yesterday afternoon, it's been great gardening weather and I've been outside with the animals, in the garden, or making meals for the family.  I'm also happily back to work at the plant nursery a couple days per week. 

Joon is a few weeks away from kidding, this will be my first year ever with goats giving birth.  I've been reviewing all the birthing chapters in every book I have, gathering all my supplies, and I think I have everything I  need.  Next week I'll be focusing on getting Joon's nest ready, the small paddock and a portion of the barn will be freshly cleaned and set up just for her and her new kids, separate from the other goats.  I'm both excited and nervous, and  hope I'm there when she gives birth, I still need to get a vet's number lined up, just in case, although I've reviewed so much I feel pretty confident.  There are a few things I do still need, one is a dehorner, the kids will need to be dehorned at 2 weeks old.  Plus I need CDT shots, more milk filters, and cheesemaking supplies. 

Just wanted to give a quick update, and let you know I'm outside gardening in the fresh Spring air and loving it!!  
Happy Spring!

PS. I've also been working on several posts that are ready with pictures, I just need to finish writing them.  One is sourdough baking, making waffles and scones, one is on fruit trees and berry bushes, another on mozzarella cheese and buttermilk, and one about the hands that built Applegarth.  They're all coming soon.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Eggs

A fun moment on Easter today as the girls colored a couple dozen of our eggs.  We don't have any white egg layers, they're all brown and green eggs, and when they're colored, they turn out the most beautiful deep shades. 

Our naturally colorful eggs
Today was a gorgeous sunny day, and I made a full on Easter meal, it was a kitchen day, full of cooking and baking.  I'm always happy to have a reason to celebrate, and the reason to celebrate today was His (Jesus) resurrection and Life, and the glory of His triumph!  We all had discussions about this as we colored eggs and cooked.  For our meal I made ham, scalloped potatoes, vegetables and homemade dinner rolls.  For dessert I made a pear and apple pie/crisp, and of course we had some ice cream to go with it.  

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Early Spring around the farm

It could be true... we think Jersey might be pregnant.  I've been feeling her belly everyday, and it feels like she has a couple kids growing inside of her.  I hope it's true, we'll all be watching.  This would most likely mean she got pregnant on the first breeding in mid January and will then be due around the middle of June, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping.  Can a goat go into heat every 3 weeks even though she's pregnant, could it have been a false heat?  

Yep, she looks pregnant to me!

Cowboy likes to hang out with everyone and chat.
Serendipity and one of her 3 kits, they're all doing well.

Joon might have twins or triplets, she's getting bigger by the day and is due around the first of May.  Cowboy is the father, they're both Nigerian Dwarfs, along with Stormy and Snowdrop.

This is the mystery chicken that we got as a freebie when we bought the batch of cornish cross meat chickens from McMurray hatchery.  We raised him right along with them and then put him in with the laying flock, we were'nt sure if we'd get a hen or a rooster.  Well he's turned into the most friendly rooster ever, he tags right along with me everywhere.  He's the one walking towards me in the first picture with Jersey, and the one with Joon and Snowdrop.  Right now he's just getting to hang out with the flock, but my plan is to post him on Craigslist for sale.  He looks almost identical to my other farm yard rooster, but he's from McMurray Hatchery so must be a purebred.  Someone may want to add a friendly rooster to their flock of hens I'm hoping.

The new pasture is connected to both the goat and chicken barn, you can see the grass is really starting to grow.  The chickens and rabbits also have their own fully fenced aviary that they still go in often, it has an opening that is small enough just for them to pass through and not the goats.  It's a totally safe zone, however most of the time the rabbits run all over.  We opened up the new pasture and it's been three weeks, so far so good, I was worried about air attacks from hawks or owls.  All the animals are living in total harmony, when everyone has free browse and plenty of food and water, they're all happy.  One important goal we have is for us to eat well, including the animals, everyone in my care is well fed and has fresh food.

Hazel and Filbert saying hi to each other during feeding time. 
Hazel has been building her nest, she's due anyday.

Blooms on the young hazelnut tree in front of the rabbitry.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The next best thing to living off grid

Over the last week we've made some decisions to go back in time even more.  After realizing we had to fill the propane tank yet again, and wondering  how it went so fast, I decided it was time to make a change with my attitude towards our energy consumtion.  The price of propane keeps going up and we have to fill our large tank about twice per year, at twelve hundred dollars a pop I'd rather only fill it once per year.  As I took a long look at our indulgent consuming of energy as a family, I had to reassess what was important.  I'm happy to report that I've had a real paradigm shift over the last few days.  I excitedly talked with my husband first about it, and of course he was supportive, then I talked with the kids about it and we've decided to make a game of seeing how much we can save on our energy consumption, and how self sufficient with our power usage we can be.

After researching what uses the most energy, I discovered that my gas oven and range that I love is on the top of the list, right along with my propane clothes dry, and our on demand propane hot water in both the cabin and big house.  We have lots of dishes and laundry and I hadn't been thinking much about it as I filled the hot water into the sinks and ran the clothes dryer everyday, and took nice hot showers twice per day.  These are all just the propane users, and do not include our power use with lights, small heaters in the kids rooms, the toaster, dehydrator, refrigerators, and clothes washer, we don't own a microwave or dishwasher, thankfully. 

Just like our food bill, this is one area we can have direct control over and make some cuts to save money.  Know the things you can control and the things you can't.  Money represents time and work and is getting harder to come by and quicker to disappear in these times.  I don't know about you, but as we watch the chaos in the middle east and our own country totally out of control with it's debt, it's sobering to realize we're in way over our head as a country and no one knows how to fix it without major cut backs.  Cut backs that no one wants to change and make.  I think we're all aware our country could have a massive financial collapse if we keep going without correcting this problem.  Underlying concerns are one of the things that are causing us as a family to prepare the best we can for an uncertain future.  I know we can't control what's happening in our country on that scale, but in our own little world we can make the choices that are within our control. 

Sure we could continue consuming and work hard to pay for it all, like we always have, but now we've decided as a family to keep it simple in our life. I like the idea of going back in time with our thinking to a time when people knew how to live by their own power. 

So what are we doing differently.  We have a woodstove going everyday, so we're hanging our clothes to dry around it, and cooking over it as much as we can. We also pulled out an old wood cookstove we've had in the shop for years, one that we are going to work on and refinish so we can bring it inside for cooking and baking.  I love my gas stove and will still keep it all set up, I've just been unplugging it and turning off the gas, so the pilot light doesn't run continuously burning up precious fuel.  I won't be blow drying my hair, and the small heaters in the kids rooms are not going to be used, we'll each get 5 minute or less showers once per day.  I'm also keeping two large pots of water on the woodstove so when I do the dishes I can fill up the sinks with it.  Every little bit will help, and we all have an attitude of adventure in making these changes. 

This mindset of living from your own power is the next best thing to off grid living.  We're still connected to the power grid, it took my husband 15 years of living here without it before he got our property hooked up.  Now as I suggested making cut backs, he at first questioned putting up a clothes rack around the fire for many reasons including looks.  So he ended up thinking about it and made a removable rack with copper poles, that easily comes down when we have get togethers with friends and family.  He used materials that we had to make it and I am thrilled to be able to hang my clothes to dry for free.  When summer rolls around we'll set up our outdoor clothes line to hang laundry to dry.

Pinned Image

We continue onward with our journey to living more simply and self sufficiently.