Maine Fiber Frolic 2017 Poster
MOFGA Common Ground Fair Poster

seeing red…

…and orange…and a little green. Oh! and even some purpley black. I’m talking about tomatoes!

CSA tomatoes waiting for tasting

They’re everywhere right now. The end of our very short growing season is closing in fast. Everything that remotely looks as though it will be etible is being watched and then snatched from the plant at just the right moment.

Our CSA farm — Bluebird Hill Farm in Jefferson, ME — hosted a Tomato Tasting/Garden Tour along with a pot luck supper a few weeks ago. Can you imagine a better evening?! There were almost 30 different varieties of tomatoes to taste. In the end, the most unusual tomato had a licorice aftertaste!

When it comes to tomatoes, what I love most about this time of year is the smell of cooked tomatoes in the morning. I’m a lazy preserver so I let the crock pot do the work. That and the handy machine that separates the skins and seeds from the pulp and juice. It’s so easy…

The most excellent tomato machine at work

 

The tomatoes are roughly cut up and get put through the “Italian tomato machine” (it has a name that even my Italian friend can’t pronounce). They’re cooked overnight in an uncovered crockpot, and in the morning…tomato puree! The smell is amazing!

This year, I processed 40 pounds from our CSA. That should keep us in tomatoes for awhile!

They’ll be a breath of freshness and a reminder of summer in the dark days of winter. Yum!

 

what’s been happening

Just before shearing last year, I gave up on this blog Farm Journal.  Getting photos into posts was such a pain in the neck that posting just wasn’t fun at all.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who noticed because the good folks at WordPress have streamlined the process.  I’m giving it another try…

The ewes get to eat indoors the day after shearing.

Shearing in March went off without a hitch.  Thanks to all who came to help out, we zipped right through the woolies and then enjoyed some good food and down time together.

In early April, our first batch of meat birds arrived and then, after 2 lambless years, we welcomed lambs to the farm.  We’d really missed all that cuteness.

Candice bonding with her newborn lambs.

Our ewes did a great job and gave us tons of cuteness but one of the lambs suffered a broken leg at 3 days old and ended up in the house with us for 4 weeks.  By the end of the first week, Margaret (she got a name when she visited my spinning group) was leaping out of her playpen…cast and all. There was no containing her!  Eventually, we let her have the run of the house (wearing a diaper) and she would go into her playpen when we went to bed.  She learned to eat hay in our living room…I don’t recommend that!  Skye tolerated her and Gemma was happy to have a playmate…the cats mostly avoided her.

Little Margaret's big day out...no more cast! YAY!

Today she’s part of the flock but she’s the first to greet us at the gate and is quite the character.

The critter count was growing… piglets arrived in May.  We parked them in the shearing pen where they had lots of bedding to root in and could learn about fences.

The piglets get acquainted with their nipple waterer.

Throughout the Spring months more meat birds arrived in batches of 50 and 75.  We’ve become big fans of the slower growing old-style birds that thrive on pasture.

In June we were running everyday to stay ahead of the grass.  There was so much of it that we were moving the sheep every couple of days sometimes.

After the winter, there's always fence to be fixed and we're managing to stay just ahead of the sheep!

We could almost see the lambs growing if they stood in one place long enough!

We had fun at the Maine Fiber Frolic weekend…always great to see old friends and meet new ones!  The piglets outgrew their pen and moved into the woods where they have tons of space to roam and root and wallow and play.

Once they were well muddied up, they investigated their new digs.

We joined a budding Farmers Market right here in Bristol so for the rest of the summer, I was easy to find every Saturday morning.  It turned out to be lots of fun and I think it was a good beginning. Hopefully, it will grow and become a fixture here in our town. Put up some strawberry-balsamic-black pepper jam.

Skye in one of his favorite places.

July began on a sad note.  We lost Skye to prostate cancer.  There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think of him and miss him.  We still expect to see him rounding the corner of the barn after his walk around the farm.  Although Border Collies aren’t supposed to be guardians, he always checked our boundaries and we wonder now whether his absense will make a difference here.  We’re grateful that Gemma got to know him at least for a little while.

We had a bit of a dry spell mid-summer but it turned right around and the grass came back pretty well. Put up some tomato puree and bread & butter pickles.

Ewes and their lambs loving the grass.

The grass is growing like crazy and the lambs look great!

By September, some of our lambs and all of the pigs were ready for the butcher.  Emily came to shear some of the lambs on a stormy day.  Thank goodness for the generator and an adventurous crew.  I don’t think the sheep noticed the power outage!

A number of our lambs and a couple of our adult ewes and rams went to new homes as breeding stock, too, so they’ll be making lambs and beautiful fiber for someone else.

Shearing lambs by headlamp during a power outage. Emily is such a trooper!

Farmers Market was winding down but SOAR and NY Sheep & Wool Festival (Rhinebeck) were coming right up.  The start of October was a little crazy with Jim at SOAR and me at NY but we managed and had a good time, too!

Our first customers at Rhinebeck. Happy spindlers!

And then our attention was turned to breeding time.  Which rams would get lucky?  Which ewes would be with which ram?  All the ewes were checked for body condition and internal parasites. Then they got pedicures and nice clean coats. Bartok and Cole met the girls in mid-November and by Christmas, it was all over but the waiting.  We finished our Good Eats page…phew!

The holidays were quiet and very enjoyable with our boys and grand-dogs visiting.  It was so low key that I forgot to take photos…but maybe Jim posted some on Facebook.  Santa brought us an iPad which I’m really liking.  I’ve already moved a couple of magazine subscriptions over to it. Saving some trees is nice but really, not having that paper coming into the house is wonderful!

It took winter a long time to get going but it’s here now and we actually have some snow on the ground. Coasting along now waiting for shearing and the arrival of lambs.  This is a good time for playing with fibery things.

 

 

 

new wheels

I was all excited about my new wheels and was going to post about them but it turned out that Jim was more excited about my excitement…so excited that he put the story of my new wheels on the home page of our website!  Eesh!  

What Jim didn’t cover in his story was my complete and utter surprise when the wheels were revealed on Christmas morning.

look at those spiffy new wheels!

I’d been asking… pleading… begging for them for over a year!  I was told the research had shown that new wheels weren’t happening.  There was no hope.

By now you’re surely wondering why I didn’t just buy a new cart.  Well, it has to do with weight.  I haven’t found another cart that is as light weight but still as sturdy as this one.  The Vermont Cart Jim bought to replace mine weighs just about the same as mine with 2 bales of hay in it.  When you add 2 or 3 bales of hay to it,  I can barely move it.  And that’s why it’s now Jim’s cart!

Now for my Dark Days meals for weeks 5 & 6.  We woodland-raised some Berkshire pigs last summer and kept one for ourselves.  We enjoyed a dinner of pork chops with caramelized onions, potato pancakes, apple sauce and steamed carrots.  I made the apple sauce from wild apples that grow on our land…no sugar needed.

Berkshire pork chop dinner

I have no idea of the variety but they’re very tasty despite no care.  The trees self-prune during winter storms.  Potatoes, carrots and onions were from our CSA and the egg that held the potato pancakes together came from our own hens.

  Mother Nature gifted us a few 50 degree days…what a treat!  We were ready to bring out the lounges and the grill called to me.  (We never really put it away but 50 degrees makes it much more appealing)  I grilled a lovely london broil — part of the grassfed beef quarter we bought from our friends at Meadowsweet Farm in Swanville.  Assorted potatoes along side were simply roasted in a little olive oil, salt & pepper (not local) and

grassfed beef london broil

 we enjoyed their different flavors and textures. Steamed green beans finished the plate. Veggies were from our CSA.

It may have become obvious that carrots and green beans are on the menu often around here…way too often if you ask me!  I’ve never met a veggie I didn’t like.  Problem is that Jim isn’t a big fan of cooked veggies.  Carrots, green beans, wax beans, ummm…that’s about it for him.  I’m working on him, though.  Hey! when we got married, he didn’t eat tomatoes and thought iceburg was the only lettuce on the planet.

the between days

I love the days between Christmas and New Year!  It could well be my favorite week of the year.  I get a lot done and, if only for a short time, I feel somewhat organized.  I might even have time to do something new and different…or something that’s been put off for lack of the good chunk of time it requires.

The pile of mail that lives on the kitchen table is gone and we can actually eat there.  The kitchen counters are uncluttered except for the plates of goodies we’re grazing.  The Christmas tree has settled into its spot where it greets friends who come to our door. When we take it down, the room will look as though something is missing.  I really prefer the tree to the chair that usually lives there.

Chores get done of course, but at a different pace and with less time taken out of the day.  That’s because we’ve “winterized” and everyone is close to home making chores more streamlined.

The blizzard that dumped on us earlier this week was a gift of sorts.  There wasn’t any point in trying to shovel or clean up.  It snowed most of the day and the wind was wild!  So after wading through knee high drifts and sledding hot water from the house to all the critters (all Jim’s doing!), getting hay out to all the sheep and clearing a small spot for the hens to come out into for their scratch and warm water, it was back to the house for a nice relaxing day.

We read and napped, we ate cookies and drank tea…and nursed sore calves and thighs.  We enjoyed an effortless dinner of Christmas leftovers and watched a movie.  Even Gemma got in on the laziness of the day and spent most of the afternoon napping with Skye.

snoozing dogs

lazy afternoon snooze

skye & gemma

I'm awake now...let's play!

Not wanting to hurt ourselves, we’ve been working on the snow removal in stages…there’s a lot of it!  The days have been sunny and unseaonably warm so we’re getting some help from Mother Nature and it’s fun spending time outdoors.

snow hens

The hens venture out into their newly shovelled yard.

On Thursday our spinning group, The Salt Bay Treadlers, made a field trip to Portland and what fun we had!  We had a fabulous fresh pasta lunch at Paciarino and then dropped in on the Port Spinners and joined them for a few hours of spinning at the Portland Fiber Gallery.

pasta lunch

The Salt Bay Treadlers enjoy some yummy fresh pasta at Paciarino in Portland.

spinners

We joined the Port Spinners for an afternoon of fun.

Before heading home, we did a little shopping at Terra Cotta Pasta Company in South Portland…laying in some comfort supplies for the rest of the winter ahead.  

Happy New Year!

always learning…

These are my Dark Days Challenge meals for weeks 3 & 4…

Week 3 — braised lamb with beans — was a dinner that promised to be quite tasty but I kind of rushed the beans a bit and grossly underestimated the amount of liquid the beans would need to cook properly.  It wasn’t a total disaster because I discovered the need for more liquid before it was too late but the beans could’ve been cooked a little longer.  I don’t use dry beans very often so this was a departure from my comfort zone.

lambnbeans

braised lamb shoulder chops with cannellini beans & carrots

  I learned a lot and will try this again because I think it has good bones.  Next time I may use shanks because I think they’d hold up to the longer cooking time.

Here’s what I put together —   Hatchtown lamb shoulder chops from our freezer; cannellini beans, onions, garlic, carrots and celeriac from our CSA (Bluebird Hill, Jefferson, ME); a cup of homemade CSA tomato puree and 2 cups of homemade chicken stock from our freezer; a couple of sprigs of rosemary & thyme, salt & pepper.

The beans were brought to a boil and then set aside and left to soak for about 2 hours. I browned the shoulder chops in a bit of rendered lamb fat and then removed them from the pan. I added the veggies (except for carrots) to the pan and cooked them for a few minutes, then added the herbs, beans and all the liquid.  I settled the chops into the bean mixture and laid the carrots on top of everything.  It then went into a 325 degree oven, tightly covered.  After an hour, I checked it and discovered that most of the liquid was gone.  Here’s where I went wrong… I should’ve heated the extra stock before adding it but I didn’t and I think adding it cold pretty much stopped any cooking. Of course that meant it had to get back up to speed before it started to cook again. After another hour, the lamb was falling off the bones, the carrots perfect, the beans not so good…still a bit al dente.

eggybread

french toast on the way

Week 4 — french toast & canadian bacon — OK…another breakfast and a repeat performance of canadian bacon but the package our friends at Three Little Pigs Family Farm (Wiscasset, ME) gave us was huge so we’ve been picking away at it…and enjoying every minute of it!

We were scheduled to pick up a load of hay on Boxing Day so I cooked up a breakfast that would keep us going until it was put up in the barn.  The french toast was made from our own hen’s eggs, a little local milk and bread made locally from wheat grown in Aroostook County.  I used Kate’s* butter to fry it and the canadian bacon and served Maine maple syrup from our CSA along side.
*Kate’s butter is made in Maine but buys milk from New England farms. I’ll be looking for a more local source of butter.