Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Horn of Battle - Part Three

Warm familiar smells. A soft bed. Somewhere nearby she heard her father's deep voice. She was dreaming about the last time she heard his voice.

She felt his voice before she even heard his words. It rumbled deep in her chest. He was holding her face, leaning in close, and looking softly in her eyes, saying those hated words, “It's the law, Kai. I have to go.

She opened her eyes. A familiar, friendly face appeared above her, expressive eyebrows were knitted together with worry, then he was smiling, “Hi Kai.”


Then another welcome face came into view, the lovely Clara. “You're awake. Thank heaven.” Clara and Cowboy grinned at each other then looked back at Kai wrapped in the finest blankets on the softest bed.

Kai blinked hard then remembered, “My father! Where is he? The hog. What happened? ” She tried to get up.

“Oh no...no...no. You lay right there, Kai. We need to get you fixed up.” Clara motioned across the room. They were in her mother's bed chamber. Torches threw soft light and braisers burned heat into the darkened room. Kai could see the big man abed across the room. Her mother had been sitting in a chair beside him but had collapsed to lay across his chest. His huge hand very nearly covered her mother's entire head. She was sleeping fitfully. He cradled her and whispered something. Kai could feel his voice comforting OFG in her troubled sleep.

As always Col Ti stood at attention nearby, guarding his liege. His eyes were respectfully averted but he was ever alert. When he caught motion from Kai's bed he looked up. Col Ti subtly nodded at Kai. Then he leaned down to a waiting page and gave a quiet order. The page slipped silently out of the room.

“My father. I want to see him. What...What's wrong with my mother.. I should.. Mother?” Said Kai concern in her voice.

Clara gently pushed Kai back onto her pillows. “She's been awake for these three days, Kai, this is the first that she's slept. We finally convinced her to get some rest. We promised to watch over you - she hasn't left your side this whole time.” Clara was kind but firm. “We should let her be.” Then lighter, “We're just glad you are finally awake.”

Kai looked around still confused, “I've been asleep for three days? What happened?”

Cowboy laughed, “More like what didn't happen! You should have seen it, Kai. That was a battle for the story tellers!” Cowboy and Clara laughed like they where sharing a secret joke. He continued, “It starts with a Princess who ran off ….alone.” His look scolded her but then Cowboy grinned and laughed.

“Oh no.” Said Kai miserably, “Am I in trouble? Wait – what happened to that hog? And how did I get back here?”

Cowboy and Clara settled in around Kai and they started telling the tale....

The battle line had formed quickly and they thundered thru the night. OFG had sent rangers ahead and even the fastest scouts struggled to keep up with Kai as she sped thru the night toward the sound of her father's horn.

“Hold the line!” Bellowed Col Ti from beside OFG, his voice rising above the pounding hooves and paws and claws. Even in the deep woods the battle line held. It had to.

Up ahead Col Ti's sharp ears could hear Kai's frightened scream. “Commander Zander! LionSlayers! Advance!” Col Ti's voice rang loud and clear. The young captain surged ahead, his huge shoulders and strong legs powered him ahead of the line of battle. Otto, the huge red warrior, and his band of fighting men broke from the line and shot ahead thru the night. Behind them Cowboy and another figure raced out as well.

The giant hog, wild with fear and pain, had just taken careful aim at his victim, the injured and helpless Princess Kai, when Zander's dread war howl shattered the night. The hog swung its head around just in time to see the fierce, determined Zander hurtling into the clearing. In an instant the young captain was upon the hog. Half a heart beat later the giant Otto had joined the fray. Quick and sure young Cowboy, teeth bared and all snarls, positioned himself between the brawling hog and Princess Kai. Brave Clara was there as well, covering Kai's head with her body and pulling her cape over Kai's broken figure.

The battle line crashed into the clearing.

“Kai!” Screamed OFG and she kicked her mount forward. But Col Ti grabbed her reins and held them tight. He gave her a hard look. “He has it in hand, Sir.” He said firmly over the noise of the still advancing line. OFG jerked her reins and began to protest. “I said, Zander has it well in hand. Sir.”

OFG pursed her lips and looked at her first in command. They had warred together for so long they knew each others thoughts. He was right. She was needed to rule and command. It was unwise for her to join the fight. She gave a curt nod then snapped her gaze back toward the clearing.

Otto's LionSlayers had formed a circle around the fierce fight but with the huge red warrior astride the horrible hog and Commander Zander's tremendous jaws ripping at the hog's terrible throat the end was surely near. Never had been heard such a foul sound in the Land as the last horrible, gurgling, shrieking scream from that huge and terrible hog. At last it lay dead. Zander, his mouth and throat dripping with fresh blood, stood over the hog. It was over. Zander lay back his mighty head and howled his victory. Otto and his LionSlayers joined in the death song.

“Hens Fifth! Advance!” OFG swung her battle axe indicating the far side of the clearing “Retrieve that man!” A contingent of war hens armed with round shields and short swords raced toward the fallen Gato Diablo. The sound was of armor clanking and feet marching together as they raced in his direction.

There was no way to tell if another demon hog roamed in the night. The battle line was on full alert. They could hear the rangers fanning out and encircling the clearing. At least they would have some warning if they were attacked. OFG knew they needed to exercise great caution. Danger abounded.

“Goose Third! Testudo!” OFG pointed toward the fallen man. “And someone get that stallion under control!”

Some of the younger ducks had raced forward and were trying to catch the enormous black horse. But it was still wild with fear, rearing and kicking. “It's no good, Sir!” Screamed back a young drake named Greenwing and he flung himself on the ground narrowly avoiding the killing hoof strikes of the terrified horse. It was well known that the enormous, unnamed black horse had descended from the mighty fighting Thracian battle horses. There were few in the Lands capable of handling such magnificent beasts. Not only did they bear their riders into battle but these horses would fight as well.

“Horse Master!” Bellowed OFG. The battle line instantly split down the middle, with the center two war hens taking a step back and to the side forming a straight passageway in the column. A small but sure one ran from the back ranks.

Horse Master Harley was from the House of Vahl Irie in the Mountain Lands. She was strong and stocky and had a knowing about her that few understood but all revered. Brave and courageous she mastered horsekind many times her size. She had great renown. Beloved of her master Harley was entrusted to The Good Land for a short time. Her presence was a treasure and it was most fortuitous that she was here when most needed. No other could tame the enormous black horse – least of all when it was out of its mind with terror.

Eying the great beast as if seeing the unseen, the Horse Master circled around in the front of the nervous horse and said the calming words. The horse anxiously tossed his great head and snorted as Harley moved closer. Then the giant horse relaxed and snorted again stamping the ground, this time resigned. Harley took the reins and quickly led the horse back thru the ranks, which closed up neatly as they passed.

Meanwhile the war hens of the Fifth had made their way to Gato Diablo. They circled the crumbled body forming a protective barrier. Quickly some of the hens formed a kind of stretcher with their shields. Gato was lifted gently unto the shields by the contingent's leader, an enormous rooster named BlackJack. The hens retreated back to the line in double time. Gato Diablo was loaded unto a cart and the Healers began their work.

OD and the heavily armored Goose Third division skillfully moved as a unit toward the big man. Each battle goose carried a long shield that covered his body from the top of his head to below the knee. They were known for their bravery and steadfastness. Each linked his shield with the one next to him forming a moving wall of metal.

“Stay together! Half Time! Together I said, you maggots!” OD yelled to his men, “Now testudo!” The great battle goose, OD, was tough but fair. He was relentless with his discipline but his division could always be counted on to get the job done.

As one the battle geese locked their shields together and then lowered them so that the bottom edge of the shields rested on the ground. The inner ranks then shifted their shields aloft forming a lid. They had formed an impenetrable iron cask around and over top of the big man. OD, at the center, was the last to clank his shield closed at the very top and center of the formation. Even tho muffled from inside the iron tortoise they could all hear him yelling courage and conviction into his men.

“Half time! Retreat!” Came the order and then slowly the huge metal shell moved back toward the battle line.

Commander Zander wiped the blood from his mouth and staggered toward his fallen sister. Clara was trying to rouse Kai but there was no response. Zander carefully knelt down, wrapped Kai in Clara's black cloak, and gently carried her to OFG.

“Mother I.. I...tried to get to her in time... I...” Zander was nearly over come as he lifted Kai up onto his liege's saddle. OFG blinked back tears, took the precious bundle from him, and held Kai close.

“We have her now, Zander, it will be alright.”

Keeping Kai in her arms, OFG turned her mount and headed back to the Great Hall. Immediately her personal guard formed up close around her. Someone led her mount and they moved off at a fast trot with Cowboy and Clara close behind. Zander watched them go, his heart aching. The great warrior Otto quietly approached Zander and placed a hand on the young captain's shoulder. There was nothing to be said.

Col Ti was barking orders to the troops. “Secure this area! Rangers in all directions! Scouts report on the quarter hour.” There was much work to be done. The battle line sprung to action as each raced to do their appointed job.

Suddenly his anger caught up with him and Col Ti shouted, “And somebody get me a pole axe!” Col Ti took the great weapon that was proffered and stalked over to the carcass of the horrible hog.

“What happened to Gato Diablo?” Asked Kai as she took a long drink of the rich, hot broth that the serving ducks had brought. There was also roast meats, fresh raw liver, and cool water. Cowboy and Clara were eating from the great serving platters arranged on Kai's bed.

“Oh that.” Said Cowboy with a slight grimace.

It was known that Gato Diablo was quite mad. Upon waking he had torn at the Healers in a shrieking rage causing several of them to require medical attention. They had done their best to sedate him but not even the strongest potions worked. Gato Diablo was completely wild and could not be soothed. His blood curdling screams could be heard through the Hall. Finally in desperation, heavily armed guards wrestled the demented Gato Diablo to the ground and he was taken away to the deepest part of the keep.

“You mean he's in the dungeon?” Asked Kai incredulously.

“Well.... to be fair its more like the basement, Kai.” Answered Cowboy.

She raised her eyebrows. “So.....a basement cat?”

“Just so. As it were.” Cowboy shrugged and looked away afluster. Clara stifled a snicker. Kai just nodded.

Gato Diablo's shrill shrieks continued unabated for two days and nights. Finally they sent for Moose the White from an order of holy men known to be alchemists. Moose arrived in a small cart drawn by a half lame young goatling named Princess.

By torchlight Little Mo quickly showed Moose down to the stronghold where Gato Diablo was being kept – they followed the sound of bone chilling screams. The moment Moose entered the cell the screaming stopped. Then the door opened and Moose carried out the sleeping Gato Diablo. Without a word of explanation Moose walked back to his cart, loaded up Gato Diablo and started to drive away.

“But wait!” Yelled an extraordinary agitated Little Mo, “Where are you taking him! Where shall I say you've gone?”

“He'll know.” Called back Moose the White.

“And that was that.” Cowboy finished. Clara handed him another morsel of meat from the platter. Kai looked a little puzzled at the whole thing.

“But what of that hog?” Asked Kai, already feeling stronger and getting the sparkle back in her eye. “I'd like to have myself the biggest of that hog's bones – that would surely make a fine meal.”

Clara grinned widely and gestured at the platters. “Your wish has already come true. But..um... there are no long bones. After Col Ti got done poleaxing that hog carcass...well... there were only small pieces left. They are tender and delicious though!. Clara laughed easily and they all reached for another piece of roasted hog.

Suddenly their attention was called to the door as in hurried Zander. “Sister! Oh thank the heavens!” He crossed the room and swept Kai up in an embrace. Then pulling back to look at her he breathed, “We've been so worried.” He hugged her again. Zander then settled in next to Kai and accepted a cup of broth with his thanks. 

“You are welcome, Zander, hush though, we are trying to let your mother sleep.” Said Clara as she nodded her head toward OFG and the big man

Across the room OFG had started to stir but the big man had pulled her close and was murmuring to her again. His deep voice rumbled inside of Kai's chest but she still could not make out his words.

“Hey Kai, do you want to know what he's saying?” Ask Cowboy, broadly smiling.

“No. That's alright, Cowboy. ” Answered Princess Kai turning back and grinning to her brother and her friends, “I think I know.”

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Candy Cane Biscotti

Did you get suckered into the 10 for $10 boxes of candy cane sale at the store? Yeah me too. OK so what are you gonna do with all those candy canes? How about make biscotti!

How fun are these cookies?

I'm still on a biscotti rampage - I made another batch of the gingerbread ones just the other day. Since the mixer was out I figured I'd try the Mennonite Girls Can Cook recipe for Peppermint Candy Biscotti..and try to put a dent in the mountain of candy canes I got on sale.

If you get get past the step of unwrapping the candy canes you are set!

The first infuriating step it to pound all those candy canes to dust. That's if you can get them out of the wrappers. My golly what an ordeal! Worse than the plastic wrapping around DVD's if you ask me. And the candy cane dust makes everything sticky. But it is pretty. I used my small Handy Chopper to do the job.

I'm guessing you can use candy cane dust for lots of fun things...like on the rim of a mug of hot cocoa?

The dough is super easy - but it's sticky also even before you add the candy cane dust. Basically everything in your kitchen will be sticky until you get these bad boys in the oven. Once you get it mixed up then shape it into loaves and bake. Cool the baked loaves a few minutes, lower your oven a bit, slice the loaves and bake the slices again - be sure to turn halfway thru baking.

I added a dusting of ground candy canes to the top of one of the loaves. It turned out great!

These biscotti are crunchy and pepperminty. And fun to eat. If you really want to fancy them up you can dunk them chocolate. No white chocolate comes in this house so I used some dark chocolate chips on a few of the cookies.

So friends, when you are taking down the tree just gather up all those candy canes that were decorations and grind them into dust and make up a batch of these Candy Cane Biscotti.

Happy Saturday everyone! Did you get any snow? We did and its a superfun snow day for dogs!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Savory Bread Pudding

My most hilarious friend calls our Winter Weather Advisories "FTE's."  You know, everyone runs out to the store to buy milk, eggs, and bread to stock up for, apparently, the upcoming "French Toast Emergency."

After the storm clears there's only so much french toast you can actually eat to use up all that milk, eggs, and bread - so why not try something new? I love a good savory bread pudding. It's quick and easy and a great way to use up a stack of eggs if the hens are on full production, or you have a slightly stale loaf of bread, or extra milk. I save up the odds and ends of my home made bread in the freezer until I have enough to make this hearty and warming dish.

The recipe is very forgiving and its really "use what you've got." I started with this as a base recipe but I didn't have half of the ingredients they listed.

If I remember right I used:

4 or 5 eggs
2 cups of milk plus a glug of cream
whatever homemade bread I had left from our all-carb-Christmas-day
a pint jar of home canned sweet potatoes, drained
half an onion I had left over from something else
a stalk of celery
a handful of whatever shredded white cheese I had in the fridge
a handful of Parmesan 
a dash of nutmeg
a sprinkle of thyme
and some generous grindings of salt and pepper

Mix up the eggs and milk and soak the bread chunks (I cut them into cubes) while you saute the onions and celery in a lot of butter. Add the sweet potatoes to the fry pan and season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Pour this mix over the bread and "custard", mix in the cheese and nutmeg, and then turn out into a buttered baking dish. Top with another shake of cheese. Then I baked it for about 45 minutes at 350* or until it was browned and beautiful.

I served this with broasted chicken and it was perfect. Its also spectacular the next day for breakfast - heated up and with a fried or poached egg on top.

So now you know what to do with all your extra FTE items. Savory bread pudding - its delish!

Happy Friday everyone. We are in for another round of snow - snuggle in, friends!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

All The Snow

This is all the snow we got yesterday - can you believe it? That was it. A dusting. So much for the blizzard.

Thanks for everyone's birthday wishes on 'the facebook' yesterday! The worst thing about having the day after Christmas as your birthday is that everyone is too partied out to do anything - so I really appreciated everyone's comments. We sat around and watched a Lord of the Rings marathon. The fighting uruk-hai were my favorite part - and Kai's also

Yesterday's Birthday Blizzard 2012 was just as big of a disappointment as that whole apocalypse. A big nothing for sure. We were right on the rain/snow line so we received sleet, freezing rain, and ice. Counties north of us really got a pounding tho, and this part of the state still has "Snow Emergency Levels" One and Two for many counties. This means the road conditions are bad and everyone should just stay home. If they ever reach a Level Three then you could be arrested for driving.

As for us we had a quiet holiday but it was not without action and adventure. On Friday the big tanker truck came to deliver our heating oil....and got stuck in our driveway. Like "holy moly how'd you do that" stuck. They had to call a huge wrecker to come in and pull the tanker truck out. It took almost 2 hours for the special wrecker to come in from the nearest metropolitan area!

While we were waiting for the wrecker I gave the tanker driver snacks and cookies - I felt terrible for him. But wow once the wrecker got here they got the tanker pulled out like it was nothing. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Unfortunately they had to drag the tanker thru part of my potato garden. I'll get it fixed up. And nope we aren't going to try and get anything from the company. I needed to do some drainage work there anyway and they basically trenched it for me.

So all's well that ends well in the holiday season. I'm already getting seed catalogs and looking forward to doing gardening planning.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snow Smiles

Finally....we've got some snow up in here.

Kai and Zander are built for snow and yesterday was the best day of their lives. Zander was just a baby last winter so it was like he was seeing snow for the first time. They spent a lot of yesterday outside tearing around in the snow. They didn't even get cold. And no one wanted to come inside.

There were a lot of snow smiles yesterday.

Happy Saturday everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Soothing Snaps

Well the world didn't end and it didn't snow - so now I can't write either post I was planning to do.... so lets look at soothing pix of animals. I think some folks are feeling a little exhausted by everything that's happened over the last week. Let's take a lesson from this crew and just relax a little today.

 Nicholas always knows how to relax.

My big dog got a new big dog bed and he loves it. 

Dog#2 always sleeps curled up like a baby. My friend SD says this is a "houndy" thing to do. 
I love how his tail is all tucked in also. 

Little Mo always finds the right sunny spot. 

Dahli is just ridiculous.

Happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gingerbread Biscotti

Stop what you are doing, clear the kitchen counters, and make these cookies right now. You don't even need a reason. They are the best holiday cookies. EVER. Gingerbread biscotti - they will change your life.

And when I say "holiday cookies" I mean you can and should make them at any time of year including right now. Everyday is a holiday, right?

My love affair with gingerbread biscotti started at Starbucks - they offered these as a seasonal treat. But since my closest Starbucks is a hard 45 minute drive away, I was thrilled to find them in the grocery store by Nonni. You know how I feel about packaged foods tho - so I was determined to find a home made version.

Of course, I cut the sugar in this recipe, used more cinnamon than advised, and I don't believe in white chocolate on principal. But they didn't need a thing. Just gingerbready goodness. I also baked these twice, as you normally would made biscotti. Once as a loaf for about 25 minutes at 350*, cool 10 minutes, slice with a serrated knife, then bake again for 14 minutes at 325*, turning them over half way thru.

I'm also trying something new with the camera - what do you think? Ever since my pal, D, over at Gastronomic Gardener dramatically improved his food pictures I've been wondering how he did it. He just posted some pointers on food photography so I'm trying to learn more about it. 

Unfortunately I have zero artiness in me. At all. There is some artistic ability in my family - but I didn't get any of it. I got the "good with a shovel" gene. And the "can shout obscenities that can be heard from a mile away" gene. But not the artful side.

So I was glad to learn that some of food photography is about mechanics and not entirely about having an artful eye. I figure I should learn these techniques or I'll end up spending a lot of time photoshopping my food pix. (You know who you are.)

Of course, trying to take any pictures of food in this house comes with the potential of being photobombed by any number of cats.

Nicholas says "Soon."

Today looks like we are getting the leading edge of the snow storm that has been pounding across the midwest. I'm going to make another batch of these cookies to make sure we are well supplied.

Happy Thursday everyone! Now go and make some gingerbread biscotti!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Never Bring A Goat To A Dog Fight

This is my every morning. I let the dogs out to roam around, hunt varmints, bark at the neighbors dogs, and get all their wiggles out. One of the ways they do this is to play. First let's get this out right now - they are not fighting. This is what it looks like when big dogs play.

See why I'm always saying to never let your dog play with your goats? Look at my Kai, our little princess. We call her Wiggles - anybody want a piece of her? I didn't think so.

You might be wondering where Lucky is in this brawl? Well he's standing beside me while I was taking these happy snaps.

Since Lucky is the low man on the dog pack totem pole he'd be the one getting pinned by the rest of them. But Zander loves this kind of play so he's happy to get the take down.

To be sure this game is as rough as it looks. I can hear the "thud" when they all tackle The Bubby and bring him down.

But he loves it and gets right back up and starts the chase again. It normally starts with this kind of "clash of the curly tailed bear killers."

See how powerful Kai's back legs are? She uses her whole body weight and can easily knock Zander off his feet. And she's our littlest dog!

I'm showing these pics as a reminder to supervise your dogs around your livestock. When you aren't looking your Mr. Woofywoof acts like this. And he really wants to kill your goats. All of them. It doensn't matter how your dog acts when you are standing there watching him. Given the chance he will be very happy to unleash his inner wolf and take out a flock of chickens, your favorite duck, or your goats. Or your neighbor's flocks. You have to supervise your dogs. At all times. Always.

I read a post from a distraught woman who asked on a forum why her normally good dog killed her chickens. Because that's what they do, that's why. It isn't nefarious.  Dog are predators. Your flocks are prey. Left unsupervised it ends with your dog on a rampage much like these guys.

But your chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, or goats are no match for even a smallish or mediums sized dog. Your dog may not even know that your flocks are a food source - he probably just thinks they are fun. They smell like poop and run and flap when chased, what could be better for a dog?

Imagine your favorite little goaty-woaty pippin' and poppin' around as cute as can be....then insert her into one of the pictures above. It's not even a fair fight. Even that big buck of yours doesn't stand a chance against one determined big dog or 2 medium sized dogs working together.

If you're lucky your dog may not have a high prey drive, or even better you've got a Livestock Guardian Dog who is hardwired to guard flocks.  But unless your LGD knows that he's supposed to guard those specific chickens, for heavens sakes don't just bring him home and pen him up with your flocks. It will go badly for everyone and you'll stand there wondering what happened.

I'm reiterating this point because lately I've been hearing that folks have had flock losses due to dogs. Not roaming around strange dogs - but their own dogs. Anecdotally I'll tell you the biggest threat to your flocks are dogs. Sometimes it's your dog.

What's the solution? Supervision. Fences. Keep your chickens and goats and your dogs separated by fences and not good intentions.  Take a good look at how dogs play. Then go and get your fences set up.

Happy Wednesday everyone! Is anyone getting the big snow? Not us...not yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cheese Making List

Thanks to everyone who has been using my Amazon store or the Amazon search box for their shopping! I really appreciate the support and I hope that my recommendations have been helpful. So far its going great. There's still a few more shopping days left before the holiday - so how about another list? Is cheese making in your future? Or maybe you just need to stock up?

My absolute favorite book, 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes: From Cheddar and Brie to Butter and Yogurt. I love this book especially if you have goats. It has a ton of recipes just for goat milk, does a great job of explaining the difference in goat vs cow cheese making, and gives exact instructions. If you only get one cheese making book this is it.
Of course there are some other great books out there. I started with Ricki Carrol's Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses. Its a good start and is great for folks who want to try cheese making and may not have access to a fresh, unpasteurized milk. On my wishlist tho, is the stunningly beautiful Artisan Cheese Making at Home: Techniques & Recipes for Mastering World-Class Cheeses. Isn't it a vision?

Some folks are hesitant to make cheese at home thinking its overly complicated. Nope. If you can follow any cooking recipe then you can make cheese. You just need a few things not normally found in your kitchen and a little confidence. I was absolutely thrilled to see that my favorite cheese making supplier,  Leeners has a store on Amazon. I love these guys. They have superfast delivery, excellent products, and exceptional customer service. You can also order directly from their website http://www.leeners.com and if you are lucky enough you can go and visit their shop.

If you are just starting out, there is a Deluxe Hard Cheese Kit with Red Cheese Wax with absolutely everything you could ever need. Or you can purchase the bits and bobs as you go along. I have everything that I use listed on my Cheese Making store page here.

One thing you need (that most folks don't already have) is the biggest stainless steel stock pot you can find. A 20 quart is probably the minimum. I would probably pass out with joy if I ever got one of the Prime Pacific Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Lid, 35-Quart. That's 35 quarts! Oh man...the cheese I could make with that... The most important thing to remember is that it must be stainless, NOT aluminum.

A couple "bits and bobs" include really good quality cheese cloth, not from the grocery, but something like Cheesecloth Commercial Grade 3 SqYrd 27 SqFt which is a bargain here on Amazon.

I mostly use mesophilic starter for my cheeses:


And I prefer the rennet tablets such as Tablet Vegetable Rennet - 10 ct. They have a liquid version also.

If you are going to make aged cheeses you'll need somewhere to age it. A cool cellar is just the ticket but our basement is finished so that doesn't work for us. If you are skilled you could convert an old fridge so that it holds a temperature of about 50* or below.... or you can do what we did. Get a wine fridge with temperature controls, such as this Koldfront 28 Bottle Ultra Capacity Thermoelectric Wine Cooler - Platinum. This was absolutely our best idea. And it worked like a dream!

The important thing to remember about cheese making is not to be hesitant. There are some new words you'll need to learn, like mesophilic culture, and you might have some cheese fails - but so what? Even if your cheese doesn't turn out perfectly its still cheese. If it's a total fail then you can just give it to your chickens. Or pigs. Plus, what a fun skill to learn!

I have a good friend in the city who called me up after she had a gathering with her friends. Someone brought a goat cheese appetizer that costs something like $15 or $20. We both cracked up laughing because I could make the same thing for a cost of goods of less than $1 plus milk from my goats.

I used to stand in front of the cheese counter at an expensive grocery store and pine away for all that amazing cheese. Now I just go home and make it myself. And so can you! Stop waiting! Now is the time for you to get up some confidence and make some cheese!

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Editor's Notes.... I've added a new "search" features to my Amazon store. But it seems to be limited to certain categories. If you ever get lost in my store, just click on the "Powered by Amazon" badge and you'll go right to the normal Amazon store. Or you can just use the black search box on the right of this page. If you are doing some shopping anyway, why not start here? You'll be supporting this blog and it won't cost you a thing!  And... um.. I might have made a bet that I'll have to make good on here soon. It involves a bra. And me. Oh golly. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

How to Brine and Smoke a Ham

I made a ham! And I mean... I made it from the beginning. I started out with bacon seeds, grew them in the dirt, harvested them, then brine cured and smoke a ham. That is local food, folks.

 All that is left of my ham masterpiece.

This was a great project but here's the thing - I didn't take one picture of the process! So we'll all just have to "imagine if you will"....and pretend there are all kinds of spectacular pix of how-to. I was a little squeamish about taking on a whole ham. Its a lot of meat and if something went wrong.. gosh. Its a huge risk. I wasn't sure if the end result would be as good as sending the ham to our local guy to be cured and smoked. He's a professional, right? I wasn't sure I had the right equipment or the right set up. Our smoker (Char-Broil Offset Smoker American Gourmet Deluxe Charcoal Grill) is pretty big but still. It was a lot of meat to go to waste if I did it wrong.

Check out the marbling on this ham. Amazing!

I got a tip on a molasses cured ham which can be found online here. Of course I consulted Ruhlman's Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, and I also checked out Homesick Texan's process here. Armed with all of this info I figured I could do it. But as I stood there at my butcher table with that whole back leg looking at me...all I could think of was a summer's worth of work, all that feed, and my last good nerve.....I got weak. So I only took off half of the ham for curing. I parted up the rest of the meat and put it in the freezer.

My plan was to use the molasses cure recipe from River Cottage, the process from Ruhlman and Homesick Texan, and then to smoke the ham. The process is fairly straightforward:

1. Brine the ham in a mix of sugar and salt and other stuff for the appointed period of time based on weight.
2. Dry it out.
3. Smoke it.

I got to work on the brine and cleaned out one of my 5 gallon food quality buckets. As my references all said... the half a ham kind of bobbed around in the brine so to keep it submerged I used a glass baking dish weighted with a canning jar full of water inside a ziplock bag. I put the jar of water in the bag in case it leaked. I needed to make sure the brine kept its intended portions and was not watered down.

Apparently you need to keep the brine at about 38*. Our meat fridge is much colder than that so I had to do some monkeying around with the settings. At a little over 7 pounds the ham should have brined for about 4 days.

But I forgot about it.

You heard me. My worst fear had come upon me. I ruined it. I totally panicked when I went down to get the bacons I had started on the same day - which were supposed to cure for about a week - and I saw that "done date" on the ham was several days before! I brined the ham too long! I stood there agog. I cursed my stupidity and lack of planning. I rent my garments and shook my fists. The whole summer of pig hating flashed before my eyes.  Dang.

So I did what anyone would do. I soaked the ham overnight in fresh water hoping to leach out some of that salt. Then I had to let the ham sit there for another over night to dry out. By the time I fired up the smoker I was afraid it was too late and that it would just be a big disaster.

On top of that, it was raining and 50* on the smoking day. But I couldn't wait one day longer. I had to get that ham smoked that day. Of course, I couldn't get the charcoal going. Or keep it going. It was a big disaster. So I just made a low fire with hardwood and hoped for the best. Normally when I smoke bacons I do it on a cold, preferably below freezing, day. This way I can just smoke them all day and let them cool in the freezing temps outside over night. But nooooooo everything was against me and the nite temperature was also 50* - much too warm to leave the ham out there. The "ruined" ham was unceremoniously brought inside and shoved into the meat fridge. I was sure it was ruined.

The next day I stood in the kitchen cursing the ruined ham. I was defeated by the ass end of a pig. I was mad. Real mad. I cooked a small slice of it in my fry pan just to see how badly it was ruined.

It wasn't ruined. It was delicious. It was sublime. It was not too salty. It was not too sweet. It was mildly smokey and flavorful and tender and amazing. It was The Best Ham Ever.

It was so good that I cooked the rest of it the next day. We ate that ham for days afterwards and still had some to freeze. As we speak the meaty ham bone is in the crock pot making bean soup superdelicious.

So now I'm totally sold on home curing and smoking ham. It worked despite my best efforts to ruin it.

I've got my eye on a couple of porkers and the next time we butcher I'm going ham-wild. I'm going to cure and smoke all of those hams myself. Boldly. Without reservation. It's gonna be a big ham fest. It's gonna be ham-tastic. It's gonna be a big ol' ham-amaggedon. I can't wait.

And next time there will be pictures. I promise.

Happy Monday everyone! Now fire up your smoker and make yourself a ham!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I think we could all use some snuggles today. Here is Little Mo and Nicholas snuggling on the couch.

If you look close, Little Mo is sleeping with his little tongue hanging out. Isn't he adorable?

Apparently he was in a snit yesterday because Bitty Boo was stealing the spotlight on the blog. Check out the comments. You know who you are.

And this is what happens when you get your big dog a new bed.....

The cat with the least amount of moxie takes it over. Good dogs. Now Peep - get off the bed!

Let's all just snuggle everyone we love today, OK? We're all in this together.

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