Archive for December, 2009

Making bread from scratch

December 30, 2009

I recently made bread using whole wheat flour made with the wheat I grew back in BC. I’m ridiculously proud about being self-sufficient in a food as basic and ubiquitous as bread. So here is the story in pictures of my whole wheat bread. I planted the hard red winter wheat in mid-October last year. We had some rain and soon the sprouts where looking like this:

Sprouting wheat

It grew a bit higher then kind of hibernated during the winter and started growing again in the spring. By July, after some hot, dry weather that was good for drying, it was close to 3 feet tall and the heads were bent down indicating that the wheat was ripe and ready to be harvested:

Ripe wheat in the field

We then used hand sickles over a couple of days to cut the wheat and bundle it into sheaves.

Cutting the ripe wheat

A finished sheaf

The next challenge was to figure out how to get the wheat threshed. Threshing separates the grain from the hulls and stems (chaff). We tried putting the harvested wheat on a tarp and stomping on it then trying to use a fan to blow away the lighter chaff. This proved to be way to time consuming. Now if you were growing 100 acres of wheat, you would probably have a large combine to do the harvesting, threshing, and cleaning all in one step but I didn’t have a combine and I only had 1/10th of an acre of wheat so it wasn’t likely that I could find anyone willing to come out and combine this small amount. So, I heard about the Atchelitz Threshermen’s Association, a group that operates a farm equipment museum at the local fairgrounds. They were nice enought to let me bring the wheat sheaves out and run them through a 1940’s vintage threshing machine.

My wheat sheaves by the thresher

Threshed wheat coming out

I ended up with 340 pounds or so of threshed wheat. There was still a bit of chaff in with the grain but this had reduced the two pickup truck loads of sheaves to 5 bags full of grain. The next step was to clean the grain to remove the remaining chaff. I found a kind farmer with another antique piece of equipment, in this case a fanning mill.

The fanning mill in action

Beautiful cleaned wheat kernels

 I brought 75 pounds or so of the cleaned wheat with me to New Brunswick. Then we received as a present this wonderful Nutrimill that grinds the wheat (and other grains) into whole grain meal or flour depending on the courseness setting.

The new grain mill

Now that I had the flour, I used a recipe from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book to turn it into a delicious loaf of bread.

The finished loaf!

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December 30, 2009

Me at my spinning wheel - nice when it's cold outside

Goats on Snowshoes

December 21, 2009

It was a sunny day and no more than 10 or 12 degrees below zero (Celcius!) and my mom had just arrived on the farm to go Christmas tree hunting. I had promised them a tree from our property and had scouted around the day before, marking eligible trees with bright pink surveyors tape. The snow was fairly deep and crusted on top so walking would be difficult, especially for my mom who’d had her knee replaced less than a year ago.

Mom and Dad had bought each other snowshoes for Christmas this year and, being people who don’t get too hung up on tradition, they reckoned it would be a good time to open the gifts. I wore Dad’s and Mom got to try out her own pair. It was quite wonderful, I haven’t been on snowshoes in ages but it’s not that hard to get the feel of it again. The important thing to remember is to walk with your legs wide apart and don’t step on your own or anyone else’s snowshoes!

As Mom and I headed off with our trusty pruning saw, we were joined by the goats who love to get out on a sunny day, especially when there are people around to share the fun. The goats headed for their favourite grove of pine trees and we spent a bit of time there, helping to hold branches down as the browsed on the pine needles. As we continued out of the fenced area towards the forest, the goats followed. They had gone beyond the fenced area before so I wasn’t too worried about them finding their way home if they spooked or decided they’d had enough.

The snow was a bit heavy going for the goats because of the crusting so Mom and I tried to stamp down a fairly wide path for them to follow in. Well, this wasn’t quite good enough for them and they followed us closely enough to step on our snowshoes more than once. The first time I fell face-first into the snow, I thought I’d tripped myself up by stepping on my own snowshoe. I soon realized, though, that it was those sneaky goats, getting in close and hitching a ride on my snowshoes. Nessie was especially problematic because she’s so heavy and bulky, she’d come in close enough to sideswipe me with her belly and as I’d try to recover my balance, I’d fall because she was standing on my snowshoes!

Fortunately the landings were usually quite soft and we were well dressed enough not to mind spending a bit of time lying in the snow. Most of the goats left and headed for home after a little while but Nessie and Keehay stayed with us the whole time. They followed us to the eventual perfect tree, stood on my snowshoes as I cut it down, and even helped to lighten the load a bit by chewing on it as I dragged it back home! Mom and I laughed a lot that day, there’s nothing like having goats around to make every outing an adventure!

We had some more very cold days last week and it is supposed to be a bit milder in the days to come. I really want to wash the car and am waiting for temperatures closer to zero before attempting it. I also need to trim goats’ hooves and clean the barn out a bit. Will has finished the wall and door to the boys’ palace and started putting posts in the ground for the boys’ fence. He has also been working on a family project: going through boxes and boxes of slides left by his father, to convert them into digital form. He finally finished them today and I look forward to seeing the completed CD with all those cute little baby pictures of him and his brothers, plus those great old cars and clothing styles from his parents’ wedding and honeymoon shots. He’s putting the pictures on CDs and sending them out to his brothers, mother and step-mother – a nice Christmas gift!

I’ve been making cheese whenever I get a chance, mozzarella from Keehay’s milk and gouda from Norm’s goats’ milk. I had a magnificent gouda aging nicely in our bathroom when the cats got in one night and chewed big chunks out of it. Will has since moved his tiny home tiny fridge into the kitchen and we have gouda in it now, aging at the correct temperature. It’s a better idea all round, actually, since a bathroom kept at a steady 50 degrees is a chilly place to take a shower!

I’ve also been spinning that lovely white Romney fibre I’d bought in BC a few months back. It is coming along quite nicely and I’m really enjoying having a wheel in my life again. Spinning is one of those things that you can pick up and put down very easily. So when I have 15 minutes to kill, I can spend it spinning. You may want to check this out: my Mom sent me a link to this website which not only demonstrates spinning, but the woman is actually doing her spinning in a tiny home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5i8KRcccDw&feature=fvw .

Mom and Will and I have decided to put one day a week aside to practice French. We had our first French date last week and it was very useful and lots of fun. I have some kids’ books to read and a work book to work through. There is also a good French instruction website to work with. I don’t know at what point all this learning will coalesce and I’ll actually be able to get up the nerve to try and speak to strangers in French, but we’ll see!

Will and I went into Moncton last Thursday evening for dinner and a fiddle jam, or at least I went to a fiddle jam and Will went to the movies! We checked out a Thai restaurant just off of Main St. which was very nice. The fiddle jam was great as well, we played quite a few tunes I knew plus some I’ve heard enough times to be able to play bits of them. The format was very much the same as in St-Antoine where the group plays tunes from a list to start with, and then individuals get up to play a tune. They don’t play quite as fast as the group in St-Antoine and I even found the waltzes a bit too slow. There are lots of good players, though, and I enjoyed hearing all the different tunes. One woman got up and played “The Headlands”, a tune we’ve always played as a march, with the rhythm of a strathspey. I think I remember Vivienne playing it like that once or twice and it’s amazing how hard it is to play a tune, even when you’re totally familiar with it, when the rhythm changes! It sounded good, though, and I’m going to work on it like that, just for fun.

Happy Solstice to you all, if I don’t write again before then, and happy holidays, too.

December 20, 2009

Will on snow removal duty

December 20, 2009

Will working on the bachelor pad

December 14, 2009

Little car with super-duper snow tires

December 14, 2009

Kitties help by keeping the couch warm on cold days

Pretty Chilly!

December 14, 2009

I think winter is truly here. We have had temperatures registering on the thermometer into the double digits below zero, with the actual temperature lower yet due to wind chill. Yes, we have had some very cold days this last while! Fortunately our cosy house warmed by the wood burning stove has kept us warm. We are also well equipped with warm clothes to make the great outdoors tolerable, though we’ve been relying more on the strategic layering of our BC winter wardrobe than new purchases at this point. Though we have made some warm gear purchases since arriving: I bought a pair of Sorel winter boots which are truly wonderful in the snow and cold, and Will invested in a pair of insulated coveralls (yes, size XX large!). When it is really cold I wear two hats, one that goes over my ears and buckles under my chin and another that goes over it! I have some nice large, padded gloves and some good scarves as well, though when it’s really cold and windy I also need something to cover my face.

Now I could go on and on about dressing to enjoy the winter but what really gets me excited in this new climate is snow tires. What a wonderful invention! I can’t believe I’ve driven so long without them and what a difference they make to driving in the winter – no more gripping fear as I head out the driveway, now I know my little car will stay on the road and get me where I’m going! We put snow tires only on the car and plan to drive the truck when the roads are clear. We bought rims as well as tires so we can change the tires ourselves – more expensive in the short term but a long term savings. There is a local challenge out here to see how long you can wait before putting on snow tires – since snow tires are softer they wear more easily and provide more road resistance which lowers fuel efficiency. Therefore it is in our interest to have snow tires on for as short a time as possible though without compromising our safety on the roads. So you wait and wait until just before that big snowfall, and hopefully don’t find yourself digging down into the snow to jack up the car and put on snow tires!

Will and I visited “Au Fond des Bois”, the goat farm and cheesery near Rexton last week and what a test of snow tires that was! The farm is quite a ways out into the woods (hence the name) on a public road which is just not well maintained. We had had a good snowfall the night before and some snow removal had occurred, though not very much. The road travels down a steep hill with a sharp 90 degree bend at the bottom, over a narrow bridge and then up another steep hill before leveling off. Imagine our little Toyota Yaris (with snow tires) scooting along through fairly deep snow, icy patches and soft, slushy stuff. It was quite amazing but Will successfully piloted us through the course and to the goat farm. I was very impressed both with Will and the snow tires!

The goat farm is quite lovely. The family who operates the farm and cheesery are originally from Belgium and have lived in this area for quite a few years. They arrived here wanting to make a tourist retreat: cabins and dinner with the family at the big table in the house, but found their location was just too far off the beaten track and the road was just too formidable. The goat dairy and cheese-making business came along a bit later and they have built themselves into a bit of a local institution, though not without some challenges. Their biggest challenge has been the local health department and their stories of dealing with the worst of small-minded bureaucracy are quite scary. However they persevered and are now operating a successful business.

We toured the barn and I was very impressed: imagine a bright, airy, insulated barn full of happy, healthy goats – sigh! Yes, I think I have a bit of barn envy. The milking parlour holds 12 goats at a time, milking six at once and everything is tidy, clean and well organized. They are so far out into the forest that predators are a big problem and the goats were indoors at that time. They had a neighbor trapping coyotes and bobcat to keep the population down though their long term plan is to get a llama to live with the goats for protection. Their farm is a three person operation: father manages the business and marketing, son manages the herd and mother makes the cheese. They are milking about 60 goats now (or will be in the summer, they take a month off in the winter) so you can imagine the amount of work each person is doing. They help each other out in the various operations and will probably eventually hire some help, though for now they are completely self-contained. I talked to them about our interests in starting a goat dairy and asked about them possibly buying milk from us. She sounded interested and was very supportive of another goat dairy in the area. They aren’t an organic dairy but are using organic methods as much as possible. Organic animal feed is incredibly expensive out here and I haven’t met any organic producers who are feeding organic grains to their livestock. But, you say, then they aren’t organic producers, are they? Well, these would be producers of certified organic grass-fed beef, for example, who also raise chickens on pasture but not certified because of the cost of the feed. I’m hoping we can raise our own grains and maybe even create a poultry ration eventually, though that will be a while coming.

A couple of weekends ago Will attended an auction in St-Antoine and came home with some lovely treasures: an air compressor, socket set, drill bits, jack stands and a jigsaw (not a puzzle!). The air compressor needs a bit of work and some parts but is coming along. It is still blowing fuses, though we think it just needs to be on a bigger circuit. Right now all the circuits in the barn are maximum 15 amps and this just doesn’t seem to be enough to run the compressor, especially in the cold when the oil is thick.

The goats are doing well and bearing up in the cold. I kept the barn doors closed on the coldest days and the temperature in the barn stayed a few degrees warmer than outside. The girls have a heated water bucket so their water stays liquid, but the boys need an occasional top-up with hot water from the house. Will is working on the boys’ palace and has used up all the left-over metal roofing on two of the walls. He has put windows in on the west side and is framing in a door on the east side. Once it is all covered in siding and a feeder built and waterer installed, the boys can move in. It is a large space and will easily hold another couple of bucks. Then we will have more room inside the big barn for more does, yippee!

It’s good to hear from all of you out there in the big wide world. Hopefully you are all having a good winter and looking forward to the holiday season ahead.

December 7, 2009

My new spinning wheel

December 7, 2009

River view