Sunday, January 31, 2010

Great Marketing

As we were driving to a Hershey Bears Hockey game this evening, we were driving along a main road and saw simple white signs handpainted in black lettering.

The first sign that caught my eye said Raw Goats Milk.  Cool I thought-- Mike needs to make cheese!
The signs continued every mile or so.   They said, 
Raw Buckwheat Honey
Do you like Pottery?
We like Pottery,
 You Know you need a Mug!
and so on...

I said-- we have to stop.  I need to at least meet this person who had such a great marketing idea.  So we got off the exit and a mile off the exit we find this house with honey, apples, raw goats milk and pottery.  Lots of gorgeous pottery.  We didn't have time to browse - I just said I'll take one of that, one of that honey, and some apples, etc. as we had to go.  No time to linger.

The couple makes gorgeous pottery.  We didn't even look at the price of the mug Mike bought.  I just bought 4 different honeys, apples, the raw goats milk a bunch of other things and then the mug.  I thought it was kind of expensive but I thought, I have no idea what's in my bags and I didn't look at the prices very carefully.  I saw good quality things and I wanted them.   Then Mike got home and really looked at the mug and their website.  That's a $42 mug he said to me.  So I looked at it more closely and said- wow, that's a really nice mug and all the stuff in the house did look great. 

We stumbled upon a talented couple.  I guess I'll have to save up if I want to buy any more pottery.  Of course now I want my own mug...and also a pitcher and a vase... :)

Grass Fed Beef Cookbooks

We ate steak tonight.  I forgot to take pictures....
I thought we were having company with all the meat on the table.  Mike said since the steaks are vacuum sealed, they didn't look that big in the packaging.  But then he opened them and then realized, wow, that's a lot of meat.

We tried ribeyes, sirloin tip and sirloin steak.  Mike grilled them.  First he seared them on high heat and then turned the grill down to low.  We've learned that grass fed beef should be cooked slowly. As we knew, the meat was lean and packed with flavor.  And it was a deeper red color.  That's the thing I notice the most about the meat in general besides the taste.  When frozen it can look purple and when cooked it's not light pink or light brown, it's darker brown and deep, deep pink and red. I'm sure there is a reason for this.... tomorrow's blog posting.

But first a plug for 2 books that are teaching us how to cook grassfed meat.

To learn how to properly cook grass fed meats.  I'm going to recommend this
author and her 2 books.
I'll include a few other books as well, but these were the 2 we started reading.
Cook on low heat slowly... and have a thermometer to check the temp. 
The more I keep reading about grass fed meats, the more I wonder how it took me so long to learn about grass fed products.  I just never knew....

The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook: Healthy Cooking & Good Living with Pasture Raised Foods

The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat...and for saving the planet one bite at a time

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grass Fed Beef Education Week

This weeks postings will be about grass fed beef. 
We have grass fed beef for sale.  We tried the hamburgers tonight and they are Tasty!
The meat is very lean and has a great beef flavor.

We've been told that grass fed beef needs to be cooked differently than corn fed beef so we've gotten a few cookbooks and I'll recommend a few of those as well.

First though, what are the benefits of grass fed beef?
You can read the attached article.  So similar to pastured chickens and eggs, high Omega 3's, high levels of CLA and more vitamins.  Interestingly, grass fed beef cooks faster because it has less water in it.  It also retains it's shape and doesn't shrink as much as grain fed cattle.  Also has less calories!!!  I like that!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chickens are Laying again

The hens are ramping up production.  Mike has been slowly turning the lights that are inside the barn on earlier each morning.  So now they are at 12 hrs of 'light' a day which is evidently the magical tipping point.

So let us know if you need eggs....we'll be stocked up pretty soon!

Beef is ready and at the butcher.  Let us know if you want to buy some.  We're excited!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Crop Rotation

I think I've mentioned before that I have a new respect for farmers since owning a farm?

Last year the garden was easy. Just dig up the ground and plant seeds and wait.

This year..... I have to learn crop rotation. There are 9 main family groupings for crops and there is a recommended order to what should be planted after or more importantly not planted the second year, third year, etc.

I'm thinking that this may be why our potatoes did not do well last year because 1/2 of them were right on top of where they were grown the year before.

Ah---- the learning never stops... plant carrots/celery/parsley/parsnips after the onion family, plant the cucumbers, melons, squash and gourds after the spinach/beets/chard family....

Thank goodness I gave myself the entire month of February to layout the garden...I'm going to need it!

If you find research that says crop rotation is just a bunch of bologna let me know because until then I plan away.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Big Trip to Annapolis

Mike went to Annapolis today to talk to members of the Maryland State Senate and House.
The farmers brought food raised on their farms.

His dish is on the left.  He brought turkey breast chunks (our turkey) with orzo, dill, feta, lemon, turkey stock (my homemade stock) and topped with Parmesan cheese.  

The issue Mike went to talk about:

We (Green Akeys Farm) have an exemption to process and sell chickens on our farm.  However we cannot sell them at the farmers market.  In some instances like for vegetables, the farmers market is viewed as an 'extension' of the farm but is a grey area for poultry- really grey.   
Farmers would like to sell chickens processed on their farm legally at the farmers market.  That's it.  
Mike said they talked to one official and he said that there might be a chance to amend the rules (which is evidently much easier than creating brand new legislation).

The raw milk farmers didn't seem to have as much luck at the sessions'll have to buy raw milk in PA for the foreseeable future.... 

I am still hoping this summer to befriend one of our cows and convince her to let me milk her.....if anyone has experience with milking cows please pass on advice!!!  Can I milk a cow that is 4-5 years old and not halter broken?  Can I befriend her with molasses or some other goodie?  Is it not even worth trying and just go buy a milking cow?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Precious Gem in our Backyard

I have to start this blog posting by giving perspective.  I wouldn't say I'm an ultra 'foodie' person and I am by no means an expert.  However, I have been extremely fortunate to eat at great restaurants during my lifetime.  I've been to French Laundry and several other great Napa restaurants, I've been wine tasting thru Napa, Russian River and Mike and I have splurged over the years to try some different wines.  We've eaten at lots of places in Chicago- Moto, Alinea, Arun, and on each vacation we go to one upscale restaurant and we try as much as we can eat and afford.  

You know how there are dinners you never forget?  Or one course you'll never forget?
My list includes:
-lemon grass elixir at Arun in Chicago
-the sauces in the courses at French Laundry
-an abalone appetizer in San Diego
-the edible menu at Moto and the Sea Bass cooked in this solar square (I can tell you 6-7 of the 13 courses at that meal because they were so memorable)
-the lobster sushi in San Francisco served with lobster cut in half and the tail meat cut up on top of the tail while other half of lobster standing up in the big dinner plate of ice (the lobsters arms were still moving as it was placed on the table-- I almost screamed)
-the black truffle walnut soup and cornmeal oysters at Charleston in Baltimore
-the shrimp cocktail at Elmo's in Indianapolis
-stone crab claws in Miami
-ummmm.... I have about 20 other places and dinners in mind, few in New York, Hawaii, London, Barcelona, Memphis......

So all that was to help with my qualifications as a judge of a good dinner.  We live near DC and near Baltimore where there are some great restaurants.  But did I imagine there would be a restaurant comparable to those in our backyard- 20 minutes from our farm.

No Way!

I've blogged about Sheppard Mansion in the past and Chef Andrew Little's blog is to the right for blogs we follow.  Last time I was there we ordered off the menu and it was fabulous.  Last night however, we had the chef's tasting menu.  I learned from PM that tasting menus are really the way to go if you really want to experience a chef and the food.  

All I have to say is "wow".
In the 'starter' category there was a peanut soup.  Mike and I have this thing about soup and we think that it says a lot about the chef when the soup knocks you off your seat.  I have never had peanut soup and it was light yet had a subtle peanut creaminess to it.  Amazing!

There was a pretzel roll for the bread- amazing.
The appetizer was smoked salmon that had blood orange and some Meyer lemon around it.
I don't remember what the pork entree is called -- other than fabulous.  It was smaller pieces of pork, nicely falling apart all pushed together in a round thick pancake shape and then coated with a crispy coating.  Not sure if it was flash fried or baked-- I ate it too fast to take the time to notice.  It was served along with pickled veggies.   Now I know another meal to make in the winter and I can pickle some veggies and know what to do with them.  I can now distinguish good pastured pork from industrial pork.  This was great pork- kudos to the farmer.
We then had Atlantic Flute and veal cheeks.  Both were fabulous but the browned brussel sprout was what I remember today the most from those entrees.  Maybe because Mike had never eaten a brussel sprout in his entire life and I almost didn't believe him.  I'm crossing my fingers for brussel sprouts this year.  I WILL grow them this year. 

Next came a panna cotta that had rosemary and Meyer lemon sauce on top.  Or maybe the panna cotta had the rosemary flavor in it and the Meyer lemon was on top?  It was a perfect palate cleanser and since I love rosemary I was in heaven.  

And then came dessert.  By this time we were stuffed.  Wow.  

One desert was a play on carrots.  Little 2 bite carrot cake pieces topped with a cream cheese and something topping.  Then on the same plate slices of candied carrot and then there were also gelatinous carrot rectangles.  The dish was in the same vein as Alinea and Moto-- but with a Hanover PA twist-- carrots.  I still am getting carrots out of my garden so they were probably also freshly picked.  This is probably the dessert I would order again if I had to pick from the 2 as it was just so unique and I loved the fresh clean flavors.

However, desert #2 was to die for.  His version of a peanut butter cup or a girl scout tagalong cookie.  Peanut butter mouse covered with dark chocolate and all on top of crispy heaven.
I had no idea what crispy heaven could have been until this am.  The chef after dinner gave us a tour of the restaurant and the buildings.  He's curing some hams, wants to have an area where folks can learn how to cook with farm fresh ingredients and learn things like "how to cut up a chicken" and wants to have a restaurant market area.  Meeting the chef of a restaurant is just like meeting the farmer who grows your food.  It's totally cool and it gives the food and the experience a whole new level of meaning.  Even better when you meet a chef who is all about the local food movement and good quality food and local farmers.  
So I told him that I loved the desert and as we were getting ready to leave he gave me a container to put the little cookies that are the last course.  It was dark in the room and I remembered thinking that the container was funky as the plastic went up into a circle in the center.  Maybe it was the wine pairing with dinner?  Anyway, this morning I went to open it up to eat the cookies for breakfast and realized he had put an extra peanut butter desert into the container!  That was the funny shaped part to the container!   It blended right into the plastic. So this morning Mike and I fought over it and I took a really close look at 'crispy heaven'.  My best guess is it was the same peanut puree used in the soup but that it was thicker puree that was then flattened several times over to form this thin crispy peanut crunch.  It had to be hard to make.

As Mike said at the dinner-- very cool to start with peanuts and end with peanuts. Bookends to the meal.

So if you are from the area (or not), go eat at Sheppard Mansion and experience a top notch chef for an extremely reasonable price.  The wine pairings that Karen picked out for the meal were also perfectly matched.  We are going to turn into regulars.....

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Bunnies!

Mike is pretty depressed.  We have a male and female rabbit and he tried to help them help themselves make bunnies and the first try didn't work.  So he'll try again.  Daisy and Xeno will be hanging out together for several days this time.  If it's too long of a stay together and Daisy will really start to beat up Xeno (evidently that's normal?).

So no bunnies yet....

But baby chicks for meat birds have been ordered for late Feb.  This will mean the first batch of meat chickens will be available in May.  If you'd like to order chickens now, send Mike an email.  We are keeping chicken inventory low this year and growing to order or to demand.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seed Sorting

The seeds have all arrived.  Well, most of them- still waiting on a few.
What happens next is a work of art/science.  Packets of seeds are put into groupings like 'cherry tomatoes, early tomatoes, big tomatoes that need extra staking, hot peppers, etc' and then a count for how many plants will be grown is tallied.  It is so hard to grow only 1 plant of a variety but some only get 1 plant each, some 2, a lot get 3 and then a small amount of paste tomatoes might get 50 plants.

Then there is more sorting by plant in Jan/Feb for seedlings, Feb/March seedlings, direct planting, etc.  All the sorting helps me figure out what I might have missed.  I realized I was missing my sugar snap peas and then I went and saw they had back-ordered.  Ah-ha.

Believe it or not-- I need to start seedlings soon for onions and leeks.  I'm going to try to learn how to grow these from seed again the easy way.  Last year I did it the hard way.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shelf life of a Squash

I got the spaghetti squash out of my garden about mid August. I bought the butternut squash at the farmers market in October.  I had 2 of each and kept forgetting to make something with them.  On New Years Day I thought I'd open up one of each.  Delicious!

These are the final 2 squash (see the snow in background).  I am trying to wait till end of February just to see how long squash can really last.  I had no idea that they might last all winter and into spring but it appears as if they could survive.  The spaghetti squash has turned yellow and gets a deeper gold as time passes.  The butternut squash as a few brown spots on it- but looks great.  Evidently squash can improve in flavor as it ages-- as I was told by some friends last night.  They also said squash is really good for you.

I had no idea the shelf life of squash.  I think it might turn into one of my top 5 veggies.....

Monday, January 11, 2010

From Steers to Beef

So now our 4 steers would be called Beef.  Mike got up early this morning and 3 went into the trailer rather quickly.  He hooked up the truck to the trailer and then went after the last one.  I was watching from the bedroom window.  

So the steer goes around one side of the trailer and then Mike is on the other side, and they did this round and round dance 1 1/2 times (the steer even walked over the hitch between the truck and trailer just like Mike).  Then Mike did a double back and the steer went nicely into the trailer.  I was hoping this would happen so I wouldn't have to get dressed and go outside in the cold to help him.

All 4 steers dressed out between 420-440 lbs.  Mike took 3 of the hides up somewhere in PA to be tanned (lord knows what we're going to do with 3 hides so if you're in the market for a cool Beltie Hide- let me know if not I'll have cow hide chairs?)

He's going to smoke the bones for dogs and I just asked him if he kept any other parts and he said-- yeah the tongue and the liver.  

So if you want beef or tongue or liver, let him know!  A co-worker brought me in pickled tongue last year and although it wasn't bad-- it wasn't something I could get over.  

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Winter on the Farm

Winter is beautiful.  Darn cold this year, but beautiful.

The biggest thing we've been struggling with is how to get 4 steers into the trailer to go to the butcher on Jan 11th without buying several thousand dollars of cattle handling equipment. 

My idea was to get those 4 steers into their own pasture.  Done!  That was a pretty easy job with our new pastures and fences.  Mike almost got them all separated by himself.  The 3rd one started running away down the lane and luckily I saw it while I was up picking turnips last week because I just took the dogs with me and we got the steers into the pasture.  The dogs are actually pretty good with cattle as well.  Frank is a little bit afraid of them but Dot has no fear.  We just need to train her better so she doesn't get stepped on as she gets pretty close.

Next step, back the trailer into the pasture.  This was the hardest part as those 4 steers really wanted to get out.  So the dogs had to hold them back while we opened up the gate and Mike backed in the trailer. Done!

So now we've been putting their food inside the trailer for almost 2 weeks.  Mike has done a trial run and they all go in the trailer!  Yippee.  Tomorrow is the big day so let's hope all goes well.  

I think we still have 1 more steer that can be sold off-- so if you want great grass fed beef-- email Mike.  One steer will be about 500-600 lbs.  So a quarter of a steer is 125-150 lbs.  If you only want 50 or so lbs email Mike as well.  We'll work it out.  You'll get charged more for certain cuts/etc if you want less but it will still be a deal.

Unfortunately we don't have our own stored hay yet and so we'll be buying hay this winter and likely next winter.  After that we may get our own bundled and stored ahead of time.  One big bale will last about 2 days.  

The chickens are hanging in the barn area.  When it snows they don't like to venture very far.  There are some hens who keep going into areas of the barn and lay their eggs that we don't find till later.  Who knows, maybe we'll get chicks when we least expect it.

And this is the garden area.  I had the wrong shoes on to go up further.  I still think that when the weather warms above freezing, the kale and arugula and winter thyme and parsley will start growing again.  They all really seem to enjoy the cold weather.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 CSA

We are not going to be expanding the CSA this year and will be keeping the CSA small like last year.
 A few reasons:
First off, we need to improve our soil.  Our land has been row cropped for quite a few years and the soil is in need of some serious TLC.  We can compensate with lots of purchased compost like last year but it's a pricey way to do it.  We have our own compost but still not enough.  So we must till and do lots of work to loosen up the soil down 2-3 feet and add organic material to the soil and pull up rocks.  We're going to have to do that one patch at a time.  So less members = less patches.  It's going to take a while before we can move up to a larger CSA base as we need to get a good acre or so of soil worked.
Second, we need to learn how to use row covers for spring crops and drip irrigation for summer and a smaller area is better to learn how to do this.
Third, we like the small CSA.  Last year we started to find out what you liked and we tried to grow what you asked for (this year I've learned the secrets for Kohlrabi so it'll be better) and so we really want to make sure each person gets what's fresh as well as extras that you like.

So, send Mike an email if you are interested.  The deadline for signing up is Feb 15th.  We are only taking 8-14 folks for next year so sign up now.  If you can't decide by Feb 15th, we'd be more than happy to give you our recommendations for another CSA in the area if you want to join one after Feb 15th.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A few seed picks for the small garden

Julie asked me for some of my favorite seed picks.
Hard to choose-- but these are ones for smaller gardens.

For Lettuce- go with a premix of greens and seed generously.  Then just let it grow.  Sow densely and you won't get any weeds.   Mixed greens are in all catalogues and I haven't found one better than any other.  Fedco is the cheapest across the board for seeds in my limited experience.

Also get a butter or bibb lettuce.  I can't say I've had a bad one.  They just need to be started early inside and then transplant a few of them in your garden.  Nothing better.

Beets- Detroit Dark is a good beet- the bottoms are good-- but really the tops are great.  So sow them somewhat heavily but then harvest the tops to eat when you thin them and then let the beets grow to whatever size you want.  You can still eat the tops and bottoms.  Again-- Fedco is my seed choice or Victory Seeds Garden.  Any of the golden beets are good as well.  

I love onions and shallots.  Lots of companies are doing onion bunches this year.  Johnny's  and Vermont Bean Company are where I got mine.  This way you can try something more unique like a Candy onion instead of just red/yellow/white.  I think the Candy onions rock.

The coolest peppers I'm adding this year are these Mini-peppers.  I got green/yellow/orange/chocolate- most from Totally Tomatoes.  You can stuff them and eat them as an appetizer or just eat them in one bite!  The best pictures of these peppers are from the Cooks Garden.  Actually Cooks Garden is one heck of a catalogue and for picture lovers you won't be able to put it down.  Though almost all the seeds are too pricey in my opinion, the catalogue is gorgeous and I did order 2-3 things that I couldn't find anywhere else.  Like the baby orange peppers.  They have the other baby pepper colors at Burpee's and Johnny's and Totally Tomatoes.  

The Vermont Bean Catalogue has the best variety of dried beans and good pole beans.  So I did get a purple Kentucky Wonder from them.  I'm going with pole beans this year.  I have the room and cattle panels for the beans and they are so much easier to pick when you have to pick for and hour at a time.

I love Seeds of Change for Tomatoes but they are also moving to more of their own tomatoes and discontinuing ones I really liked.  But Victory Seeds Garden and Fedco have good tomato prices compared to Seeds of Change.  I love the Amish Paste Tomato.  I also love San Marzano's for sauce.  Amana Orange is my orange tomato pick.  I like Brown Berry and Chocolate Cherry tomatoes from Totally Tomatoes.  I love the pineapple tomato and Lillian's Yellow heirloom for yellows.  I fell in love with Red Calabash from Seeds of Change last year- its a smaller tomato that is like a mini beefsteak.  Pink Brandywine tomatoes rock the world in terms of beauty and nothing could kill them-- they are so disease resistant and so I got about 10 other pink varieties similar to a pink Brandywine this year as I loved them last year.  Victory Seeds Garden has lots of great information about rare and heirloom tomatoes.  They are also small and I like to support them so they continue to stay in business.

Chard grows well in our region and in my soil for some reason or maybe it just did well with our crazy weather last year.  So I love Bright Lights Chard developed by Fedco and they are the cheapest.  Order the Bright Lights Chard now as it can run out and not be available anywhere as I found last year.  

For potatoes, choose a fingerling potato.  Go with a Banana fingering for a small garden.  They are really cool potatoes.  Again, I don't have a preference so go with Fedco for the best price. 

That's it off the top of my head.  If anyone has a specific veggie in mind-- let me know and I can give you my thoughts about that specific veggie for supplier and/or variety.  I'm not an expert by any means, but I've now got enough experience that when I see Tango - I know it's a celery and Lincoln that it's a leek (though there is also an Abraham Lincoln tomato).  

I'm venturing into more cut flowers this year.... so any advice-- send it my way!  I did Zinnias last year and there were fabulous.  So I'm trying things like Bachelor buttons, Calendula, Cleome, Cosmos, Nasturtium, Pansy, Poppy and Redbeckia.  So far, I see the names on my list- but it will take me the summer to really remember the name with the flower.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ready for 2010!

The seed catalogues have arrived and this weekend the seed lists were made. We will be ordering seeds in 4 weeks so sign up for the CSA now if you want in. After February we'll be closed for new signups as I really want to make sure I order the right amount of seeds this year.
Yes, those are Turnips in that bowl. I went out to the garden to see what was there. Arugula is still fine, cilantro, thyme and some parsley as well. There are also small Kohlrabi in the garden. I keep hoping they'll grow more- but maybe not. Carrots are still fine as well.

Next year I'm really going to do a proper winter garden and offer that to those that want to extend the season. Amazingly lots of stuff still keeps till January. I just go out there every week and see what I find. It's amazing. We ate the turnips, carrots with some parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potatoes all cut up and baked in olive oil with some brown sugar and course salt. Fabulous.

Spaghetti squash also keeps for a long time. I ate one today for dinner and I'll try the last one in February to see how it tastes then. We're going to experiment with a root cellar next year as I'm really digging the long storage foods in the winter.

Daisy is due to have kittens (bunny kittens) in about 2 weeks so these will be our first baby bunnies.

The 4 steers go to the butcher in 10 days. We successfully moved the correct 4 to their own pasture and still have to figure out how to get them in trailer to bring to the butcher. We've resorted to putting their feed in the trailer and getting them used to going in and out of the trailer. We'll see if that works in 2 weeks.

If you want beef-- call this week. We have 2 more steers available and it might be down to 1 more tomorrow. You can do a whole, half or quarter. $3.50/lb and that's a steal! A whole steer will be about 500-600lbs. We also have a small amount of pork and/or sausage available if you are interested. Just give Mike a ring.