Tuesday, February 8, 2011

this morning

weather and such

I woke up to the snow from childhood memories. The kind that covers every tree, every fence row, and hides all sin. It was still dark when I was outside delivering hay and water, but in the glow of the lamppost the flakes seemed magical. No cars drove by, and because of the atmosphere I would have been shocked if they did. The only transport that would have made any sense was a jingle horse. Inside the coffee was perking, there were some oatmeal cookies in a quart jar, and all the dogs had already been taken out and fed. I stood out by the well, on a slight down slope from the farm house and the sheep and just took it all in.

The weather has been flirtatious lately. Saturday night temperatures rose to nearly 40 degrees and a thunderstorm ripped through Jackson. I wasn't prepared for it. I was out late with the dogs, giving them their last trip outside when I noticed a giant flicker of light. I though the house shorted, or the lamppost was on the fritz...but then a clap of thunder filled the sky and I felt six again, I was so excited. I fell asleep with a window cracked open as the rain fell. It was almost like a summer pre-show. A trailer of what's to come. I missed my banjo. The rain reminded me of spring, and spring is for banjos, mud, chicks, and pea vines.

Sigh. They want it 0 tonight.

Monday, February 7, 2011

shepherd shirts!

I added some more stuff to the Dry Goods store. You can now get this design on some products (including an iPhone holder) and some other nifty farm goodies at my Cafepress store. Might be fun to stretch out on a Barnheart yoga mat, or eat your pulled pork lunch from an antler container. Every item puts a few dollars towards the farm.


peas and snow


Every time I hear someone tell me how stupid sheep are I think of my boy, Sal. Sal's my British Longwool crossbred wether: half Border Leicester and half Romney. He's huge, easily 200+ pounds, and to some people that makes him a little menacing. I remember when my friend James came to see my new farm and he saw Sal up on the hill standing under the apple trees he just stared, asked "when I got a pony with a sweater?"

Truth is, Sal's the calmest and most social sheep at Cold Antler. He comes when called, nuzzles you, and will lay next to you in the pasture if you promise to scratch his ear. I have watched toddlers stand right next to him and tug at his wool. I have set a dulcimer on his back and played it at length. He's just an easy going guy. A Golden Retriever in sheep's clothing. When Gibson charges up at the fence every single sheep but he race up the hill in a dust cloud. Sal stands calm as an iron Buddha. He chews his cud, looks at me, looks at the dog, and says in his own sheepy way, "What?"

Someday Gibson will snap his nose to teach him to respect the Law of Dog, but until then he is unmoved by 55 pounds of talk.
I like that about Sal.

He and Maude change people's minds about sheep. Most people think they are all without personality or thought, but spend one afternoon at this farm and interact with angry, sullen, Maude and joyous Sal and you'll see emotions and complex thoughts like our own behind those eyes. I'm not saying sheep are people, but they are individuals. They react with the world in their own way.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

ice rain day

hands down

The best pulled pork sandwich I ever ate.

Friday, February 4, 2011

the ones you chase

I was driving home from work in a fog. (The head kind—not the weather kind.) My brain was going over all the things I needed to accomplish that weekend (winter still leaves most of the work to the daylight days). I went through the cartograophy of the farm's needs as I zipped around corners on 313 West. Dig out around the fences so the sheep don't walk over the packed snow. Shovel out path for garbage can. Buy more hay from Nelson if it doesn't snow. Defrost Pork Butt. Call Butcher about mailing knives she left. Clean up the barn. Dust up ashes in the woodstove. Put the garden down on Paper. Read about lambing. Watch Youtube sheep births. Buy a crock pot. Meet Brett about fixing up the Red Barn. Find rib recipe. Make ribs for Superbowl party in Dorset. Deliver meat to smokehouse. Call your mother.

It was one of those winter sunsets you chase. You drive a while and things seem to turn dark in the world, everything inside it like black sheer fabric draped over a glass dome. But then you turn your rig due west the pink sky comes back, just a sliver. Proof that the winter is winding down. I was watching this happen, laughing every time I seemed to catch up with the sun. The radio was blaring something on WGNA. I tapped my thumbs on the dash along with the tune I didn't know, but let myself enjoy anyway. My head was warm in the white cap I handspun from my first three sheep. People at work must think it's a homely thing, but I wear it with so much pride it glows. (I don't even have to bleach it.) I was in an old cowboy shirt, Canvas Carhartt vest, jeans, and my black Muck boots. I was in my little truck, which seems to die and be reborn every few weeks in random garages around Washington and Bennington Counties (my land of Veryork) and as I caught up with the sun one last time before turning off route 22, I said a prayer that the Ford would make it until I could afford a new truck. One a little more reliable. Some times she doesn't start. Some times I don't either. I can't really judge her. I have 300 dollars saved. It's a start.

This girl in the truck is so different than the girl she used to be. I'm not talking about the whole city-turned-country aspect either—I am talking about someone who prays on her ride home. I don't even know who the hell I'm praying to, but I do it. It's something I picked up trying to build a farm out here alone. Sometimes you just need to be heard when you're racing light.

I now step out of my salt and dirt covered truck and walk into the Agway looking just as sorry and tired as anyone else working with cows or greenhouses. We're a ragged bunch, us growers. Some have been running to their greenhouses every three hours a night to restock the wood stove so the salad greens won't freeze. Others have been up milking and meeting trucks since 4 Am. Me? I'm not there just yet. I don't work on my land full time, but I too had been up since before dawn. With a headlamp in a huff I was feeding sheep, lugging hay, checking on pregnant ewes, and collecting frozen water bottles. I feed poultry, check on goose nests, plan and devise ways to keep the heart of this place beating. How to improve it. How to improve me. It never ends. I am so grateful it doesn't.

I have decided the girl in that humble pickup truck with the rusted tailgate is a farmer. I doubted it for a little while. I let the fact that I work in an office and write books tell me I was getting there: but not quite. I no longer believe in "not-quite." I am a farmer now, and my entire life has evolved to meet that desire.

I am a farmer.

It's hard to believe you've gotten to the place you've been working towards for so long. But I am here. I have some land, and livestock, taxes and sales to figure out, a commercially registered truck with my farm's name on it. I have a working stock dog (kinda), feed sacks covering my barn holes, and a book on raising chickens under my belt. Today I mailed off a mortgage check. Yesterday I sent the electric bill and ordered more heating oil. Christ alive, it's expensive, but I am doing it. There's pork in my freezer, eggs in the fridge, chicks on the way, and a garden in my mind. I can't wait to slide my hands into that black soil. I can't wait to muck out those winter buildings and start a compost heap. In a year I will have made earth so black that when I spread it over my garden and on the sheep pastures I will have to sing. This is my work. This is it.

I am a farmer.

I can't wait to be so tired on a June night that I can't even lift a glass of sweet tea by my fiddle. But I do, and I watch the cars of friends pull into the driveway to join me at a bonfire. We will watch the darting ghosts of lambs in the pasture and laugh. I will be tanned and tired, lithe and light, zen and bones. Fireflies will meet us halfway behind heat lightning and this winter will be a past life we only talk about in jest. Smiles are worth more when you are tired. Maybe some one's strong arms will hold me close, and remind me you're just flirting with a dance 'till fall, and then winter will return. And I'll tell him to stop that nonsense with a kiss, and to go check on the pulled pork and cider.

I am a farmer.

can't wait for chicks!

This photo was taken at the cabin last spring. Just one year of birds and so much has changed...What hasn't altered in the slightest though is my excitement about getting chicks in the house again. I love their fluff, peeps, and antics. There will be scads too, since so many folks are coming here for a full day Chicken 101 workshop and leaving with their own Buff Orpington, Ameraucana, and Rhode Island Red (just like in Chick Days) to take home and raise up right. With all this snow (and more on the way)—nostalgia from even a year ago is comforting. Take heart though, fellow Antlers, Spring will come!

I hope.

Anyone else getting chickens this spring?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

bacon and hams

This weekend (weather permitting) I plan to visit a nearby smokehouse in Washington County. Locust Grove Smokehouse of Argyle, will be taking my 16 pounds of pork belly and two thighs and smoking them into bacon and ham. I'll get to pick flavors, cuts, bacon thickness...it's the kind of shopping you just can't do at the store. It will take somewhere around two weeks to pick up my meat, but it seems like a pretty simple transaction. Drop off frozen packages, fill out order form, sign papers, come back to get over thirty pounds of farm-raised meat.

I can't say enough good things about this first hog experiment. It has been a wonderful ride. From picking her up at Dreammaker Farms last fall to picking up these vacuumed sealed packages of bacon: all of it has been a rewarding experience. I think a pig will continue to be a presence here on the farm, specially in these off seasons when other activities like the garden, lambs, shearing, and such are calmer. And while some of it was luck (finding Vicki the Butcher, free feed, and local smokehouses) some of it was just experience. I knew how to build a pen, had a truck to move animals and supplies in, had hay and a life dedicated to animal farming ready. I think the reason Pig was such a success was because of the lessons on this blog. Years, even just a few, have made me better at this, and PIg was not so much an experiment as a project with a good head start.

I get paid tomorrow. After the mortgage check is sent I'm buying a crock pot. Little celebrations go a long way in the North Country.

not a crazy idea

The storm didn't deliver the snow that was predicted. Instead, it dropped an angry layer of heavy slush on the farm. It made shoveling the equivalent of moving wet flour in bulk. (You know it's bad when the guy you hire to plow gets stuck in your driveway.) But a few stuck trucks aside: I was grateful for the lack of snow. The piles on the sides of my driveway are easily 5 feet tall now, that's enough.

This winter is changing how I see the roles of a functioning home. The only way my place stays warm (and has hot water) is if I keep pouring oil into it's parched maw. I'm not too thrilled about buying another hundred gallons of fossil fuel every few weeks for the rest of my winters... I was recently informed about these piggyback wood stoves that hook up to your oil furnace. They use wood to heat your water and home, and when the wood fire goes out, it switches to the back-up oil. I love the idea of switching to 90% wood heat, and still having the same water system and the back-up of oil if I need to get away for a few days. Does anyone have any experience with these things? I don't think it's in the budget for this year, but it is something to consider in the future. When you live on a woodlot, a wood-heated home isn't a crazy idea.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

on the way in

Came home to just a few inches on the ground, was even able to dig out the car and do usual night chores without much fuss. Looks like the real ringer is tomorrow, and only around 10-15 inches so we might skate with under twenty total. Two months ago that would have sounded like a ridiculous sentence, but this year has taught me any day above 0 with less than thirty inches of snow at once is a blessing. Manageable. Kind.

Looks like my ride and I are braving the weather to go into the office tomorrow, but he thinks we'll skip out early in the afternoon if it's as bad as the reports say it will be. If that's the case I might be slow roasting some pork here and baking bread. Anyone with a good recipe to share, I would appreciate it. I'm embarrassed to admit I never roasted pork before...my pig cooking skills end at bacon and helping my father pour a can of Coke over the Christmas ham.

I'm reading The Dogs of Bedlam Farm again for some comfort. The book takes place just twenty minutes North of Cold Antler in the town of Hebron. It's about author Jon Katz's first winter alone on a sheep farm in Washington County. He's there with some Border collies in his new/very old farmhouse and deals with -20 nights, lambing, and being a new farmer in a very old farming community. It's comforting to see someone else get through it all, so I pick it up and read about taking rectal donkey thermometer readings and feel like I've got it easy. It's also kind of surreal to read a book about the town and places you live in. Same gas stations, same Agway, same trips to Gardenworks and the Barn in Pawlet. If you haven't read it, check it out. Or visit Bedlamfarm.com

I was asked in a recent post about my plans for the lambs slaughter in the fall. I am hoping to do something like I did with Pig, and have their lives ended here. But unlike pork, lamb needs to hang for a few days before butchering so without perfect weather conditions outside, it could get tricky. I plan on having the animals slaughtered, skinned and such here and then driven over to a local small butcher shop to hang and wrap.

We're a long way from eating lamb chops here though...first they need to be born. We're still about seven weeks from the earliest possible due date (expect the first lambs here around March 19th) but I am starting to dream about them. I woke up this morning to the sound of a crying lamb and jolted out of bed, which freaked Gibson out. It was all in my head, there were no little ones outside, but it was amazing how even the notion flung me into action. If you think this winter has been a wild ride on this blog....just wait till spring. That's the real test.

storm coming

Monday, January 31, 2011

another one

A storm is coming. A big storm. The weather reports for the 12816 are calling for 15-30 inches of snow in the next 48 hours. In preparation I am making sure all the animals and I are ready this time. It's the second half of winter and I now have a plowman on call, a ride to work when the truck can't hack it, hay for the sheep under the side porch, wood stacked inside, water ready in the trough the night before, and am even setting up snow shovels by the front door. I have a roof rake. I have good boots. I have three warm dogs and an electric blanket. I am stacked inside with books, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, and a full larder. Pray the ice stays away, and the snow is only a foot or so so the buildings stay upright and the sheep aren't in need of a rescue dig out.

I have a feeling there won't be a lot of folks making it to the office Wednesday. If it's a white out even my ride in his giant Suburban won't want to fuss when he could work from home. Wish us all luck up here in Washington County.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

a winter pork harvest

This morning I had to go check the freezer to make sure the meat was still there. I wasn't entirely sure if this was a dream or not. I wanted to see proof that yesterday's work party had actually happened and it wasn't some crystal-mushroom induced frenzy triggered by a movie marathon of Babe, Witness, and Mystic Pizza (I'll explain later). But when I cracked open the chest it was all there and accounted for. Over a hundred and twenty pounds of roasts, ribs, hams, pork belly, sausage fixings, loins and chops. I realized I had never been in possession of this much meat before in my entire life. I was lousy with pork. I got a little dizzy and shut the lid.

Yesterday was quite the day. Eleven people, six dogs, and one swine made up the work crew that descended on Cold Antler. The mission: to turn a living Yorkshire Pig into food. The pork patrol was mostly limited to myself, my good friend Steve Hemkens, and Vicki Frost the traveling butcher. But other friends of the farm stopped by during the day to help with various aspects of a winter animal harvest, and their effort was greatly appreciated. Two families, the Daughtons and the McEnenys, arrived with their young children and did everything from help pick out a butchering location to climb on the roof to push off snow. It takes a village, darling. This post is the story of one farm's winter pork harvest. The entire day. Welcome to the table.

The rest of this post will explain the work, the emotion, and the images of a day making meat out of a living animal. Be aware that the content is graphic. Out of respect for the animal, there is no images of her slaughter, but much of the work of butchering. If this makes you uncomfortable, please govern yourself accordingly.

Yesterday morning I woke up to snow. Outside thick flakes were coming down, snow-globe style all over the farm. It was beautiful. I stoked the wood stove, put a pot of coffee on, and pulled a wool sweater over my braids and headed outside to see to morning chores. I thought about the Tschorns hosting dog sled rides today in Bennington, and my friend Tim's photography show I still had not seen. There was so much I could be doing with my winter Saturday. But today I wasn't going to be riding in a dogsled or looking at pictures on a cafe wall. I went into the barn to have some words with Pig.

It was warmer than I was used to. The day was already in the high twenties, and the comfortable atmosphere paired with the gentle snow seemed to soften the work ahead. Pig was just inside the old red door, standing up, looking at me curiously. She let out a few gentle snorts and I realized how quiet she had been this whole time. She never really made any noise unless something in her evening meal made her snort with glee. Despite eating a hen that flew into her pen, she was never vulgar. She didn't smell bad. She wasn't violent, or jumpy, and never complained—though her world was never one to cause much complaint. She had lived a peaceful and comfortable life in this barn. Her nests of hay, pan of grain, and red water bucket served her well. Compared to most of the pork in this world, she was living the life of royalty. Her little curled tail wagged as I scratched her ears.

I looked down at her eyes and told her Thank You.
I had never meant those words more than at that very moment.
I walked out of the barn.
The next time I would go in would be with the butcher.

Inside the house I was preparing for the day. I baked an apple pie that morning, and put on more strong coffee for the crew. Steve arrived first with his bird dog, Cayenne. All four dogs played while we enjoyed a breakfast of pie and coffee, and caught up with each other. Soon the other families and the butcher arrived, and before long everyone was helping set up the work station and gathering supplies. I liked Vicki instantly. She carried herself with the authority of an expert in her field. She has been raising and harvesting hogs since she was nine-years-old. I was grateful she traveled all the way down here (over two hours) to serve the farm.

Even the children got in on the action. Ian Daughton (10) scoped out trees around the farm to use as our butchering hoist (I was silently hoping we could spare the neighbors the site of a bloody hog operation in the front yard) and his brother Seth (6) helped fetch cameras and bleach. Later during the day, little Eli McEneny (2) walked around the job site as uninterested in the carnage as he would be dry leaves in the fall. These were the children of sporting families. Kids that grew up learning where their food came from and helping with the process—they hunted, made sausage, had cows in the backyard. I however, grew up in gentrified Suburbia, and I couldn't imagine helping one of my parents' friends locate a slaughtering tree in second grade. They amazed me with their gumption.

As it turned out the only proper place to work was the giant Maple right on the front lawn. It was strong enough to hoist the animal, close to power sources for the electric saws, and had a flat area to set up the water and bleach stations, knives, and wrapping workshop. People who would drive by would see a carcass hanging from a limb. They'd see blood and guts and all sorts of things you don't plan on seeing when you drive into town to pick up a movie and Chinese food. "Oh well," said Steve with an air of stoic amusement, "This is the country. This is a farm. They'll just have to deal with it." I agreed. Goodbye Suburbia.

When the abattoir, butchering table, and supplies were all lined up and ready it was time to slaughter. Vicki had a 30-30 deer rifle, and explained that she would wait as long as it took to get her perfect shot on a calm animal. She had stood in pig pens for two hours before. She had no interest in a frenzy or chasing a wounded animal through the snow. I trusted her, and only the two of us went into the barn.

I stood just outside the pig pen while the butcher climbed in with the now loaded rifle. I had been asked to stand behind her and act as calm as possible. Pig seemed confused by the sudden roommate, but not in the throes of any existential crisis. Vicki spoke to her in a calm voice, explaining to her perfectly what was going to happen. "Your farmer has been taking care of you and feeding you for a long time, and now it's your turn to feed her." she said as she scratched the little girl's head. I was a little shocked at how okay I felt about all this so far. I was told it would rattle me. I was steady at the helm. 100% present and aware. And I felt lucky to have someone as experienced as Mrs. Frost on the job. The woman has been raising and butchering hogs for forty years and her mind was entirely focused. Her expertise and steady hand were all the affirmation I needed. This woman butchered over 500 swine a year, on farms all over New England. Both me and Pig were in good hands today.

If Pig did know what was coming, it wasn't jarring enough to stop her from eating the pan of sugar-soaked apples and grain that would be her last meal. I watched the scene with curiosity, but not remorse. Guilt and sadness wasn't on my mind at all, (but then again, she hadn't pulled the trigger yet). I had no idea how I would feel about the slaughter of my first hog. I was less than four feet away from the event. Slowly and gently, Vicki aimed her muzzle right behind the porcine ear and the shot rang out. Pig dropped instantly to the ground. Just like that, it was over. I did not cry.

Within a moment of the drop Vicki sit her neck and the pig bled out right where she had slept the night before. I watched her final moments of twitching and said a prayer quietly to myself. I was assured that she was already gone. The bullet had gone directly through her brain and that instant drop to the ground was the certainty we needed. Within moments Vicki's husband and Steve had walked in the barn door. They slid hooks through her back hock tendons and dragged her out to the giant maple. The work of making food would begin.

Vicki set to skinning first. She cut off the skin around the pig's feet and head, and gently pulled off the hide with the expert of a surgeon. It was many, shallow cuts, and took half an hour. Feet were removed, so was the head. What remained hanging was no longer anything like a pig at all. It looked like the hanging meat you've seen in movies and television your whole life. But you know, in your front yard.

While we worked with Pig, the Daughtons headed out to help a friend move and Scott McEneny became a homeowner's super hero and climbed on the roof of the house to push off snow. I had been so worried about the barns and animals I didn't realize my own attic roof was swelling. I told him I could rake it down, but he insisted that he had to do something, and was stunned at his kindness. His wife and their little boy talked to the sheep, and their two hunting spaniels in their Volvo sang back-up. I kept thanking them like an idiot. Not many of my friends in my previous life would come help gut a pig and shovel my roof. I decided right then and there, he was getting meat on Monday once we wrapped it all up. All who helped that day would leave with some. It was the least I could do.

We breaked around 2PM for pizza. I wasn't sure what Emily Post had written about the etiquette of hosting traveling hog butchers, but I decided in that mine would be well fed and have all the coffee or tea she could drink. We came inside and washed up before enjoying a thick-crusted pizza loaded with cheese. It tasted amazing. I had been fasting all morning, and we had been working non-stop. We talked for over and hour in there. About farming, our dogs, relationships, sustainability. Vicki seemed comfortable at Cold Antler, and I was pleased at that.

The next round of work was gutting and splitting the carcass. Vicki estimated the weight of Pig to be around 180 pounds. A third of that would become waste, and the rest would become food. The "waste" was mostly entrails and things like the head, fat, and feet. On future animals I might render my own lard and make scrapple: but this was not my intention with this first pig. I would take the hams and bacon to be smoked, but that was the extent of my adventures beyond basic pork. So entrails went to compost and the head went far into the woods for the birds. The skin was laid out for the chickens to pick the fat off and enjoy. The soil, the crows, the poultry, and several people would be fed by this one animal. How humbling.

Vicki explained the anatomy to me, and said that the inside of Pig was as healthy looking as the outside. The only thing we needed to be mindful was that she did eat raw meat (the errant hen) and that meant the meat would have to be frozen for twenty days or cooked to 160 degrees, well done, in case of any possible trichinosis. The chances were rare, being so few meals she acquired that way, but no reason to play it safe. I was so upset. Did I mess this up? Was the pork dangerous? Vicki assured me it was fine, that she would eat it and feed it to her grandchildren, just not rare.

We set the sides on the table and went to work. We cut up the liver, heart, some fat, and all the scrap cuts into a giant bowl for sausage making. We wrapped up the roasts, loins, ribs, and chops in cling wrap and freezer paper and stacked them on the table. Mounds of wrapped meat piled up, cuts I could never imagine seeing in a grocery store. Jowl steaks, Blade roasts, and stir-fry cuts would be in the freezer along with the hams, belly, and chops. The whole time we worked Vicki explained how to cook things, how to prepare them, and stories of past hogs and farm adventures. It might sound like a bloody mess, and it was, but it was also a happy practice. A bunch of kind people getting together, working side-by-side to achieve this goal.

Time went fast as Steve showed me how to wrap and mark the packages. As it got colder out we worked even faster to get everything in the freezer. I looked over at Vicki, in just a light sweater, snow pants, and a garbage bag apron and how cold she was among the knives and flesh and decided she was getting a tip. How could a four-hour round trip to dress one hog be profitable for her? I offered her pork as well (stupidly, she had plenty) but decided this was the best way to show my appreciation, and entice her back for the next pig. When you find help this good, at so good a price ($200 was her fee for the travel, slaughter, butchering, wrapping and bringing all her own supplies. Not to mention, over five hours of work...) you hope they'll like you enough to return.

A one point worked stopped to take in a scene. We all were stunned to see a group of robins in the well, just down the hill. I saw them splash at the stream and saw hints of green grass the water had washed the ice clean from. I felt as uplifted, better than I had in days. I took it as a sign that the worst of this winter was over. That spring, and lambs, and good things were going to come my way. Robins on slaughter day: a new folk saying was born.

Eventually, everything was wrapped up and cleaned. Knives were put away, the meat in the freezer, the station torn down, and all that was left was our footprints and the red pile of blood under the maple tree. Steve left with a hug, told me he was proud. I was proud too. That was the overriding feeling of the day. I had no regret or guilt for taking the life, and realized this would carry over to the lambs in the fall as well. This was my work, creating healthy meat, the food of the ages. I was proud that I completed this project, the first I executed alone. I needed help of course to do all the work, but the planning, the pen building, the finding cheap feed, the labor, the raising, the setting up the butcher date and the day's work...I did it. I felt like carpenter that finished her first house. This was a life to live in.

My life has changed from one that coveted material things and experiences to one that savors hand-made comfort. I used to want everything I saw at Crate and Barrel and dreamed of weekends in London. Now I am planning how to install a bread-baking wood stove and filling a chest freezer with yard pork. I still enjoy the Crate and Barrel catalog, I still imagine weekends in London, but they aren't what they were. They are distractions now from a better world. Amusements. When I realized the only reason people were shopping or vacationing was because someone else was making their food: it lost much of it's appeal. You can be the most strident anarchist and own your own indie gallery but you're as dependent as a suckling child if you can't fill your own fridge from time to time. I'll trade in my plane tickets for a weekend like this any day.

This morning when I was outside fetching water from the well for the sheep, I walked past the giant tree that was yesterday's scene. The new snow had all but covered the blood.

A farm exhales.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

freezer full

Friday, January 28, 2011

thanks from jackson

I've been resting, if you've been wondering. I come home from work, see to the dogs and the farm, and then eat a meal, make some tea, and get to bed. I haven't been writing here much only because it was one less thing to think about in a very chaotic squall of misfortune recovery. But things have been warming up, calming down, and I can feel myself feeling better.

Thank you for the letters, emails, donations, packages and kind words that helped pull me out of my winter funk. One person made me dinner and cookies (a chili mix and some ginger snaps), another sent me books and jam, one package from Alaska had an antique reindeer ornament that hangs in my kitchen. I appreciate them all, so much, and I hope to be mindful enough to send proper thank you notes (today someone sent me note cards, so I think that's the Universe telling me to get on that...). It is quite the feeling of kindness and looking-after I get from these parcels. All from complete strangers, too. It is wonderful. It is the community here that keeps me going some days. I am told by some people this farm is an inspiration, but the secret is it is easy to do the impossible when you have your own support group a few clicks away. From the baling twine of my heart, I thank you.

Tonight will be much like the rest of this week: some repose and a book. I still feel tired, but I think that has more to do with the end of the week than anything else. And hey, days are getting longer. It was sunny until after 5 here. Before you know it, it will be March and my heartbeat will be in the tempo of lambs.

Tomorrow: Pig. Check back for a pork post with pictures.

P.S. NPR's The Splendid Table will be airing an interview with me tomorrow, download it here!

P.S.S. I'm getting a Bun Baker Wood Stove! We're working out an advertising barter! Now I have to start saving for a chimney!

stockdog photography

I found the photography of Danielle Shank online, and I adore it. Her ability to capture the heart and eyes of working dogs is amazing. You can flip through her galleries and almost taste the dust and snow in the air. Makes me wish I was on the trial field.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

added elevation

So despite the last few weeks of blizzards, dead transmissions, frozen pipes, sore muscles, truck repairs, frozen animals, office stress, ditches, drainage, and fatigue: I think it is finally coming to an end. The animals that made it through seem okay. I am fine. Really. I'm not losing heart, being poisoned by carbon monoxide, or falling out of love with this farm.

I think I just never anticipated this sort of cold-weather chaos. I have lived here for years now, but the game changed. I learned, pretty damn fast, how different the life of a renter in a 1950's cabin with a Subaru is to being the owner of a Civil-War era farm with a light pickup truck. The intense cold, and extra-heavy snowfall has been helping to underline these differences. I'm getting it though. With everything that goes undone, I'm learning who to call, how to react, and the right gear to slide into on a slushy decline. The only way to absorb these lessons is to need them. There's a lot of that going on around here. it's an uphill battle, and every experience is a little added elevation.

Another storm you say?

Bring it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

biting your tail

May your eyes be wide and seeing
May your learn from the view where you're kneeling
Know the fear of the world that you're feeling
Is the fear of a slave
May you know how the fire was started
Want as much for the snake as the garden
Wear them both like a glove that you can wave

May your mouth betray your wisdom
May you get what they fail to mention
May your love be your only religion
Preach it to us all
May you lose what you offer gladly
May you worship the time and it's passing
Stars won't ever wait for you to watch them fall

We're the smoke on a burnt horizon
We're a boat on a tide that's rising
both the post and the pig you're untying
Butcher gone for the blade
Someday we may all be happy
Someday all make a face worth slapping
Someday we may be shocked to be laughing
At the way you behave

May your hands be strong and willing
May you know when to speak and to listen
May you find every friend that you're missing
There's no check in the mail
May you end up bruised and purple
Know the pieces the shape of a circle
Round and round you go
Biting your tail

We're the journey and the wind is whipping
Short hands on the clock still ticking
Both the egg and the red fox grinning
His belly full for the day
Someday we may all want nothing
And all together we'll get what's coming
Someday all say the world was something
That we just couldnt change

May your tongue be soft and wicked
Know your part in the calf and the killing
See straight through the captain you're kissing
Helm loose in his hand
May your words be well worth stealing
Put your hand on your heart when your singing
Choirs sick of the song
But they still gotta stand

-Iron and Wine

truck stuck in ditch. rabbit died.

Got the Ranger stuck in a ditch today, driving down a slushy hill leaving the office. Kind coworkers pulled it out with chains. Benjamin didn't make it. He died yesterday. The pipes are un-froze but the drainage is still blocked and the septic guy who came by the farm yesterday said the proper fix would cost hundreds of dollars, so I'm waiting out the thaw and showering at the office before work.

I appreciate all the kind comments and encouragment. I'll make a proper update soon and snap out of this funk. To be perfectly honest though, all I want to do tonight is go home, make tea, and go to bed.

Jenna - 0
Winter - 147,985

Monday, January 24, 2011

small number of animals dead

Some dead chickens outside barn, for some reason did not go into coop at night. Froze outside. Benjamin the angora buck is barely breathing or moving, limp to the touch, still warm. Sheep, geese, and Pig seem fine, but thirsty. Called into work, said I would be late. Going to try to start truck again. Plumbers on-call.

truck won't start

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better...

pipes froze

Don't know what to do. Don't know where they froze.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

three dog night

Something different happened today, and it made me a little uncomfortable. I was out raking snow off the outbuildings, checking on the animals, and doing usual winter chores when I got incredibly tired. I mean, buckling tired. It was how I felt when I was recovering from the campylobacter, and it scared me. I wasn't cold (I was really bundled up). I wasn't feeling sick. And I wasn't dehydrated or doing too much. I made sure to stagger chores to make sure the work was in smaller chunks, but damn, I was just done and it was only 2:30. I came inside, threw some logs in the stove, and made myself get under the heated blanket on the daybed with a book and sleep for an hourw with Annie. The alarm went off at 4PM and everything hurt. My arms sore from raking, my head swirling. I had a cold glass of water and felt better and went outside to use the rest of the daylight to line the sheep shed with clean bedding for the big freeze tonight.

I never nap. I just don't. It is really unusual for me to have to shut down like that. I just feel weak today, and have since Friday. I'm not coughing. I have no fever. My appetite is the same monstrous appetite I always have....I just feel thinner, like stretched out linen. I'm either getting sick, or getting some sort of winter fatigue.

Well, at least the farm is in good shape. I have a pile of dry wood inside for the night and tomorrow. Snow raked off the barn, sheds, and coop. The sheep have clean water in their defrosted tank and fresh bedding (plus all the hay they can eat). The chickens, rabbits, and geese got extra bedding and corn too, and so did Pig. The trucks is gassed up. The driveway is plowed. I did my level best. Now the only thing left to do is sip tea, rest, and curl up for the three-dog night. (For me, this is a literal as well as figurative statement.) Oh well, the only way out, is through.

Thank you for all your tips. I used many today.
I hear there might be another big storm this week?



The National Weather Service has announced -23 lows tonight, and more snow next week. This is a cold I have never experienced before. I don't know what it will do to the house, the truck, the animals, or the little details that keep things running like electric water-tank defrosters on the farm. I do know that I'm staying home today to look after things and keep the stove burning all day and night. Does anyone have any cold-weather tips that could help around here? Should I run the truck engine for twenty minutes tonight to keep the battery alive? Should the sheep get bag balm on their noses? Do your dogs need more water to keep from a cold dehydration? And is it better to keep the wood stove roaring or down to hot coals all night, which has more of a heat output? I'll take on this cold and snow regardless, but advice that could keep my vehicle safe or animals more comfortable would be a gift.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

oil, buns, and radio shows

My mother is reading James Howard Kunstler's The Long Emergency, which is about Peak Oil and how he predicts it will change the American way of life. I haven't read it yet, but have read his two novels about a post-oil world. She did as well, and after doing so was intrigued in her very curious way to see how Kunstler found his characters in such dire circumstances. It's been kind of neat talking to her about it. I never thought we'd have such light hearted talks about the supposed end of civilization, but we have. Those novels and that book seem to make having a daughter with a small farm a little more appealing, and for that I thank James very much. I asked her what she thought about the book so far and this was her response. "Oh, God, it's going to be awful. We're all going to have to live like you, but without a DVD player."

I love my mom.

Two loaves of bread are baking in the oven. This kitchen smells heavenly. Lord in heaven, do I ever love hand-kneaded bread. I love eating it, but I think I love baking it even more. The house swells with goodness and butter-drenched comfort. It's one of those homesteading experiences we can all share. From Boston to Bolivia: we can turn grains into nourishing food. It just takes some flour, a little yeast, and clean water. You can get fancy like I did today and mix in a fresh egg and some honey, but really that's just icing in the dough. A good loaf needs little but heat and good hands. Try it, you'll like it.

I'm really, really, interested in this wood stove called the Vermont Bun Baker. It's a regular wood stove, but the bottom of the stove is an oven, and the top is a range. I'm already thinking about adding another wood stove to the farm for next year since I found a farm in Cambridge willing to trade lambs for cords of wood. The amount of heat a second wood stove could crank out in this small house would be epic, and to have one that takes up so little space. And I like the idea of being able to have a hot oven and a second heat source if the power went out. (Up here in Washington County, winter power outages aren't exactly a rarity.) So I emailed the guys who own this company to see if they would possibly be willing to work something out in exchange for advertising. I have learned it never hurts to ask. All they can say is no, but thank you. And even if they don't agree, I still want to show off this cool find. Any baker with a homesteading itch can't help but swoon a little at things like this, can they?

Also, I wanted to share a radio interview I did on the online show Beyond Sustainable. Host and Homesteading Supplier, Jerri Bedell interviewed me for the hour-long episode about homesteading, getting started, and why I made the choice to embrace this lifestyle. You can listen to the show here, but keep in mind it's the third show in a three-hour long series of shows on self-reliance and various other topics. I'm not sure what the first two hours are about, but you can stream ahead to Jerri's show and listen in on some of Cold Antler Farm's history.

Cold one tonight, way below zero and possibly as low as -20 tomorrow. Not a bad time to stay inside and bake to the radio. Not a bad time at all.

joel salatin is my personal hero

on the article

In regards to The Guardian article: I did not intent to aggitate so many people. For that, I apologize. I could have easily added the sentence: If you are a vegetarian such as I was, and have no moral issues with eating meat but feel consuming it is aiding an unethical industry: have I got an alternative for you... and then went on to explain my fervent support of pasture-based meats.

I removed the post from the blog not because I was ashamed of what I wrote, or because I changed my opinion, but because the conversation was quickly changing from "Why do you eat meat" to just plain mean. One person even suggested I only wrote it as a publicity stunt. I have a pretty thick skin, but I'm not a masochist. It is saved in my post log, as are all the comments. They were all read. Some really hurt. I agree to disagree, with respect to those who were upset.

What was most unsettling about the whole fray wasn't the argument for or against vegetarianism, but the fact that so many people earnestly dedicated to animal welfare were fighting amongst themselves over which was "correct", including myself. I got defensive of my choice of farming, and my personal choices when it came to diet. It shouldn't be the grass farmers vs. vegans. It shouldn't be tofu vs. free-range eggs. It should be all of us working together to support better agricultural practices for the environment, human beings, and all other animals. If all people who act compassionately towards their eating choices—be it bacon or berries—joined forces for a better system we could move mountains, and Monsanto.

chicken 101 workshoppers?

If you are coming to the farm on in March or June, could you please post here and let me know your date? I think we might have an entire day open? So far most egg folks seem to be coming on the 6th? And I have a few openings for the meat bird workshop in June. Please let me know because I am ordering more birds tomorrow!

a useful space

There was this moment in the barn last night when my memory took a photograph. To see it properly in your own mind you need to picture the small space of my red barn (about the size of a generous one-car garage). Since the back end has been boarded off years ago for cock fighting tournaments, I am currently only using the downstairs front third of the small building. You walk into this scrappy two-story abode and you are met by a loft ladder just to the left. I'm not using the loft, but I like this ladder. It's sturdy. Stacked next to it are about twenty bales of green second-cut hay for the animals. The hay stack was once a small mountain but now it's more of a wall-hugging Jenga. Chickens (about seven refugees) perch and glare from the bale ends and I can just see them in the light from the pig pen. This hay/chicken structure, it takes up the whole left side of the available space.

About six feet from the door, dIrectly in front of me is the farm trike, protected from the elements near the ten rabbit hutches that line the main wall. Last spring these were all full, and now only two rabbits remain. One hearty meat doe that was born here in late April, and my Angora Buck, Benjamin. I had come into the barn to bring them water, and this has become an ordeal tonight since I had moments before watched the Doe's bottle crack in half in the sink from the cold. So we were down to one bottle shared until I could buy a second in the morning. (Leaving bowls out was pointless. They freeze in ten minutes and freeze the noses of the rabbits too.)

Pig has the rest of the space, and it's fairly generous. She probably takes up fifty square feet of thick hay piles, feed pans, and red water bucket. I still turn on the heat lamp for her when I am home, and she lays under it like a Diva. On her tummy with her front, dainty, hooves splayed on the hay and her back legs crossed like a 1930's cigarette model on a beach-side billboard. She sees me right next to the pen near the rabbits and starts grunting and nibbling my jeans. I reach behind me to scratch her ears and she closes her eyes. She's so big right now she doesn't even resemble the little gilt I brought back in a dog crate. She's easily 150 pounds, maybe more, and her back arches like the pigs on the old-fashioned meat cut charts. She looks like, well, like a pig. I made a pig in this barn.

So there I was, living in a photograph for a few moments. I was holding a water bottle for a thirsty rabbit in my left hand, scratching a pig's ear behind me with my right, and surrounded on all sides by leering chickens in various cathedral-heights of hay and some such. The only light was the golden glow of Pig's lamp and it cast dramatic shadows on the small space. It was beautiful. Not only in the light and animals, but in the intention. I was breathing deep and happy in a space that just a year ago was storage for large, plastic, outdoor Christmas decorations and a lawn mower—now it was feeding me. This barn, hell, the front section of this barn housed dozens of rabbits, countless eggs, a mountain of lamb and wool producing hay, a freezer-full of pork, and happy little meat birds. I never kept score of exactly how many pounds of hay, dozens of eggs, or rabbit and chicken dinners came out of the space, but it was substantial. Substantial for a chick with a desk job, at least.

A hundred square feet of wholesomeness on a winter night. A hundred square feet of recipes and stories, hay trips and tradgeties, of future stories too. It's a good barn. A useful space. And even in my hay and shit-caked Carhartts, I shine in it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

watching his charges

Thursday, January 20, 2011

it hasn't even started to to snow

I could have made the mixer. I could have made it there and back without a flake. Rats.

farm on

Saro is sitting on her eggs quite diligently, only leaving for a short few moments to drink some water or scoop up some grains with her bill. Cyrus has become High Protector, and spends just as much time guarding the nest as she does. I do believe there will be some goslings at Cold Antler. And she's not the only plausible mother in wait. My lone doe rabbit has been building a conical little nest in her hutch, possibly for kindling, but she seems way past her due date. Phantom nesting? Is there such a thing?

I am a bit worn down from the winter, emotionally and physically. It's not the work of the farm, but the juggling of the farm with the office, commuting, shorter days, and brutal cold. This January has been an onslaught of heavy storms, and it is harrowing at times. Weather is something I usually charge through, but all the cards in the deck changed, Losing the Subaru means spending a lot less time jumping into a vehicle for cavalier trips into town for ingredients or to grab a cup of coffee with friends. Storms keep me put now. It's not a bad thing by any means.

Well, sometimes it's bad. They want a storm to come in tonight and that means I can't head over the mountain to Saratoga to go to the Greenhorns Mixer. But these things are held every few months so I will make the next one. It's a small disappointment, missing the event, but chancing a shoddy truck in a storm for a two-hour round trip just isn't a good idea.

I got a call from Mrs. Frost last night, we have to reschedule Pig's harvest for another week. With temperatures falling into the low teens (as a high) working outside without gloves to cut and wrap meat would be a bad idea. So Pig gets another week of rolling in her hay pile. I think I'll bake her a cake this weekend.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

and I dreamt of that sound

Iron and Wine has a new album out in a few days: Kiss Each Other Clean. I can't wait to put that record on in the farm house. Since I first started listening to Sam Beam in 2004, I have been in love with his music. Songs like Upward Over the Mountain, Sodom South Georgia, and Faded from the Winter have shaped moments of my adult life, been engraved into memory in ways that still make me shake and smile. I have seen him live in Philadelphia. I was lucky enough to hear my favorite song, The Trapeze Swinger, for the first time live. I still can not hear that song and not well up inside. For years Iron and Wine has been on the car stereo, iPod, or in the background of every step of this journey. He is the soundtrack to this farm, and doesn't even know it.

Listen To Walking Far From Home here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


So I came across this blog online and adore it. The entire thing is based on agricultural literature. A couple reads and reviews books about all the things we love: farming, livestock, homesteading, gardening, chickens, memoirs, etc. They recently reviewed Made From Scratch, which is how I found them. (Thanks guys!) But my review aside: this is a great resource for those of us looking for some winter reads that fuel our barnheart. Check it out, and then head to the library or bookstore to stoke the fire.


Monday, January 17, 2011

note on fridge

Stop at hardware store on the way home from work to buy roof rake. Come home from work. Smell poo. Hear Gibson crying. See diarrhea all over crate. Open Crate. Take Gibson outside. Gibson poos out pie plate bits. Sheep need to be fed. Gibson gets a bath. Gibson gets dried off. Place towel down in living room. Feed wet dog. Wash and scrub plastic crate. Bleach crate. Start fire in wood stove. Take out other two dogs. Start to assemble roof rake. Get a call from Shellee. Talk to Shellee while assembling roof rake. Still have to feed sheep. Use roof rake. Success! Talk to Shellee while raking snow off barn. Gibson barks at barn snow falling off roof. Rake breaks. Drop iPhone in deep powder. Curse, a lot. Have to feed other dogs. It is -3 degrees and a storm is coming tomorrow. Find frozen iPhone after fifteen minutes digging with flashlight. Fingers ache from cold. Phone still works! Missed three calls from Shellee certain I was covered in roof snow. Add wood to fire. Feed other two dogs. Phone starts acting funny. Go dig out trash can from snowbank to pull to front of house. It is heavy. Curse women's liberation movement. Still need to feed sheep. Still need to feed chickens, geese, rabbits, and Pig. Come inside. Drink coffee. Worry abour needing more heating oil. Check furnace. Down to 1/3 tank. Worry about paying for more oil after 600 dollars in truck repairs. Focus on soliciting ad sales. Go back outside. Feed poultry in chicken coop. Pour fresh water into their font. Go inside barn. Turn on heat lamp. Collect frozen rabbit water bottles. Feed Pig. Scratch Pig's ears. Replace her bucket with fresh water. Realize truck can't handle commute in storm. Call Tim Daughton about a ride to work tomorrow. Ask if Gibson can come too, and avoid another long day in crate. Apologize to Daughtons profusely. Haul hay out to sheep. Refill sheeps' water bucket. Haul 20 pounds of water through snow. Decide women's liberation movement is effing bullshit. Scratch Sal. Come inside. Add wood to stove. Pour stout beer into glass. Starving. Make ramen noodles. Laugh at irony of homesteader-in-training eating ramen noodles. Say grace for dark beer and hot food. Change into pajama pants and old NEBCA sweatshirt. Turn on heated Blanket on daybed. Turn on Part 2 of Gettysburg. Cuddle with clean dog. Too tired to understand movie. Watch it presently with aid of memory. Decide that this first winter on the farm is humbling. Turn thermostat down from 61 to 58. Worry about what to do with Gibson tomorrow. Gibson is already asleep on my chest. His breathing is slow and no longer dirty, scared, hungry or panicked. All the animals are fed and safe. House has heat. Fire burns. Blanket is warm. Day was long. Early morning tomorrow. Another storm will roll in with ice and fears. Start all over again. Note on fridge says "NO PIE TINS ON FLOOR PLEASE."

Smile. I wouldn't want any other life in the entire world.


I baked mini pies last night, and enjoyed one with my coffee this morning. When I was 2/3rds done I set it on the ground for Jazz to enjoy the rest. When Jazz was done, Gibson ate the pie plate....

Sunday, January 16, 2011

-11 tonight

Saturday, January 15, 2011

one truck farm

Missed the NEBCA annual meeting because the pony and I were down at Midas for two hours. That muffler I needed to replace... Well, turns out the tail pipe was shot too. Had holes in it scattered and rusted through like bird shot. I also found out why it was so horrible in the snow—the sway bar was broken, not even connected to the right wheel. So those things were repaired and I was silently grateful that they accepted staggering checks to be cashed after I got paid for the service. I also had fluids topped off, oil changed, hell I even washed the old girl to get some of the salt off her. After all that attention she felt like a new truck again, drove quietly and true. She still needs some other maintenance, but we'll get by for a while. Things like tires, a transmission flush, and some horrible issue with the back end's structure keeping it suspended over the wheels.

Looks like the money I'll get for selling the Subaru (once I get the title from the State of New York) will cover most of the repairs though, and that's a wash I can deal with.

It felt good actually. I was a little upset at first that I missed the only meeting of the year the Border Collie Club held (rumor has it I was nominated Newsletter Editor?), but to know I was taking care of something so important was comforting. The truck is like any other animal on the farm: needing attention, care, and regular check ups. Even though the repairs were more extensive than I thought they would be, hell, at least she's here. In all this chaos of the last week I kept forgetting how lucky I was to have this truck in the first place. I'd be lost without that scrappy beast.

It's snowing here pretty steady. The sheep are birds and fed and Pig is chomping away at her cracked corn and sow ration. It's hard to believe that in a few days she'll be inside the house. I picked up everything on Mrs. Frost's list of supplies after the car was freed: the plywood, bleach, freezer paper, ziplock bags, plastic wrap and such. It's odd shopping for someone's execution. I had no qualms.

Friday, January 14, 2011

and so...

The Subaru is gone. Now it's just me and the pickup. I feel like my Rhino died and all I have left to travel through the world is a paint pony. Not that there's anything wrong with ponies, I just really felt safe on the back of that Rhino. But what's done is done. I sold the Subaru for a couple hundred bucks, and it will start the savings pot for a new truck. I know some of you are shaking your heads at all this, but trust me, that Rhino was dead. Transmission ruined, cat converter gone bad, a destroyed interior, busted fuses, no working wiper fluid tubes, electrical problems...I ride them hard. My lesson has been learned though. Take care of your car and it takes care of you. I ran that Subaru into the ground.

So here's my plan. I will save up a couple thousand dollars over the spring and summer and by fall I'll have a new 4-wheel-drive pickup with room for my dogs and ready for winter. Now, when I say "new" I mean new to me. The plan is to buy an older truck outright for a trade in and cash. I'm past the point in my life where paying the bank for owning a truck for me sounds like a good deal. Cash for title, thanks.

At least that is the plan. If something tragic happens to the Ranger, it might all change. I have learned that "plans" on a farm are really just incantations. You can hope with fury and try your hardest, but sometimes weather, transmissions, and circumstance get in the way. Anyway, I hope to stick with Ford. I like buying American, and I've grown so fond of my little truck I can only imagine an F150 or 4x4 Ranger would suit me just fine. In the mean time, I have to start treating the Ranger like she's the sole vehicle that she is. Tomorrow morning she goes into the garage to repair her broken muffler, get her fluids changed and checked, and so forth. After that is the annual NEBCA meeting in Albany, which I will stay for just long enough to beat any afternoon snow.

The car crisis has been met and defeated in honorable combat. Sorry for the melt down. (You know I'm freaking out when there are a lot more grammar mistakes than usual.) Now back to your regularly scheduled bloggramming.

Edwardian Farm

Thursday, January 13, 2011

i know they could be worse.

The Subaru was kinda running yesterday, but today I can't even back it out of the driveway. It just stopped working. It is blocking the pickup and the three feet of snow around it leaves no other options except removing the Subaru to back it out (which I can't). I am scared to drive the light truck, which I have to dig out and re plow the driveway by hand just to attempt driving it to work, which I am very late for. I have missed two days of work this week, and I might miss half of another one. I am sure I'm not a big hit with my boss right now. I'm on the phone with my roadside emergency service but the tow trucks under my plan are all busy with the storm...no one can get me out of here until this afternoon, and they don't want to drive up the mountain and risk getting their own tow trucks stucj. I can't just get a ride to work because, I have to be here to sign the invoice of the roadside assistance won't cover it, and I NEED them to cover it because paying for any extra expenses is totally out of the picture right now. I'm out of morale, and energy, and dog food, my cell phone is out of juice, and I have an embarrassingly low checking account till next paycheck two weeks from now due to heating oil and a mortgage payment. I'm worried and scared that I won't be able to get a new car with my iffy credit. I hate this storm, it is making everything a hundred times more stressful. The barn roof is buckling, the animals are stuck in small spaces, and hauling water is a feat that humbles you.

What do you do with a broken car you can't fix? Do you sell it to a dump? Do you hide it in your driveway till another day? Where is the how-to manual on everyday life?

I just want this week to be over with. I know things could be worse. I know I am lucky to even have these problems in the first place. But that doesn't solve such big problems. I'll be okay. I just need a miracle, or a dealership willing to finance a new truck for a humble trade in.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

eat local food. support local art.

If you will be around Southern Vermont next weekend there's going to be a friendly little gallery event you should not miss. My coworker (and part-time Cold Antler photographer) Tim Bronson will be hosting his first-ever photography show at Izabella's Eatery in downtown Bennington. There will be food, music, and great prints on the walls. I don't think there will be any Cold Antler animal images on display, but there will be plenty of other compelling eye candies to keep your artistic gears grinding. See his work here.

Izabella's is a wonderful little restaurant that offers seasonal/local foods and supports local farmers and artists. It's a great place to eat, and Tim's award-winning photography will not only be on display, but for sale. So head on out and support good food, good people, and good pictures. Local food and pictures, hot dang.

January 23rd
Izabella's Eatery
351 Main Street
Bennington, VT

storm front video update

storm ewe











Tuesday, January 11, 2011

good news and bad news

My day started with an exciting trip into Manchester, Vermont for a visit to a local NPR studio. Lynne Rosseto Kasper of the Splendid Table was calling into the station to interview me about keeping backyard chickens and how to deal with tough roosters. I had never been in a real radio booth before, and just sitting there with my headphones and the giant poofy microphone made me feel all sorts of special. It was a quick half hour, and I think it went well! The segment will air in two weeks, and hopefully spread the gospel of backyard chickens to the foodie masses. Before I said goodbye I gushed at Lynne about how much I loved her show. I really do. I've been listening for years. Falling in love with cooking is a side-product of growing and raising your own food. Cooking is a celebration. I am damn Mummer.

My day ended however, in a transmission shop. The Subaru is dead. The transmission is at a point where replacing it would cost about $3,500 and I don't even think the old girl is worth that much anymore, certainly not after what I put her through. Even if I wanted to replace her for sentimental reasons, I can't afford to. It was a hard blow to this small farm. It's the only four-wheel drive vehicle I have—and while I am damn lucky to have the pickup here to remain the lone workhorse—it's not a snow car. The Ranger just can't handle ice or any road covering beyond a dusting. Hell, I got it stuck in wet grass. To really frost the cake, they are calling for up to ten inches by tomorrow afternoon, starting late tonight. Most of it dumping in hard storm surges that make driving up a narrow, winding, mountain road in a light, 4 cylinder, 2WD pickup near impossible. All I can do is put weight in the back and hope the studded snow tires do their very best after the roads are cleared. Ugh. The sad reality is I need to sell the Subaru and find a replacement 4WD something. If anyone has a lead on an F-150, let me know.

I can't even really think about it tonight. It's too much. I know it's certainly not the end of the world, but It is times like this when I really wish I had a partner. When you're a team you simply figure things out. When you're alone you have to stress through it, become a burden to your coworkers, and lose sleep tossing and turning over the solution. There's no one to decompress with, or talk through it, or tell you things are going to be okay. On a new farm: 99% of the daily effort is based on convincing yourself that is true.

Monday, January 10, 2011

goose bread

I made the sweetest, flakiest, sugar-coated bread this weekend and wanted to share the recipe. It came out perfectly, and it was one of those happy miracles amateur cooks come across among the many flops of an educational kitchen: but this, this bread was heavenly. I made some flourishes and variations on a basic farm loaf recipe and added a secret ingredient...goose.

Well, a goose egg that is.

Goose Bread

You'll need:
Good Flour
Room Temperature Butter
Goose Egg (can substitute one and a half chicken eggs)
cake pan (or cast-iron skillet)
large baking bowl
large saucepan of water

Start your bread by placing a teaspoon of dry active yeast into a bowl, and cover it with about a tablespoon of good honey. Then add about a cup of hot water (like as hot as your tap will go) and using a whisk—quickly mix together the honey, hot water, and yeast into a dirty, frothy, water that looks cloudy and useless. Then set it aside and come back in about 5 or 10 minutes to see what's come of it. If you have a frothy head of yeast foam; then your yeast was fresh enough and your water was hot enough. If you just have the same exact dirty water your bread probably won't rise and be hard as a brick. (Try again with hotter (non boiling) water and fresher yeast.)

But if you got the frothy goodness...
Crack your goose egg and whisk that in as well. (I add about a 1/4 cup of sugar at this point too) and about a 1/2 cup of flour. This is my starter. What you should get is a wet porridge of yellowy goodness. Add half a cup of flour at a time and mix/knead it in to thicken it up to the point where you can start kneading on a table top. You want a firm dough that still remains a little sticky. (You can sprinkle flour on your counter while you knead to keep it from messing up your table and to keep it intact.)

When your dough has been well kneaded (about 5 minutes of good arm working out), take some soft butter into your clean hands and literally rub your hands together like it came with a Jergens label on it. Then use that soft butter and massage it into and around your dough, really give it a coating like you're repairing cracked skin. Cover the thing in a film of real butter and let it set to rise in a clean bow with a damp cloth covering it. It needs at least two hours (egg breads rise slower, the dough has to work more) in a comfortable, undisturbed place.

When it's doubled in size you're ready to punch it down and knead it back into its original shape. When you got all the air out, break it into three balls, coat them with some fresh flour (as to make them less sticky) and roll them into long snakes of dough with your hands. (You want them fairly skinny, like as thick as your thumb.) Take all three snakes and braid them now. Make them into a long, beautiful, horse-tail braid and then coil that braid around itself so you have a gorgeous knotted circle. Make sure you really seal the ends and bottom by pinching the dough together so it is really connected and won't break apart while it bakes.) Now place your pretty dough into a buttered cake pan (or better yet, cast-iron skillet). Set it aside for another two hours to rise again. You want the skin to get a little hard to the touch, almost stale. that's when you know you're ready to make magic happen.

Next you'll get some water to boil over your stove. When it's bubbling, take your small circle loaf and carefully place it into the boiling water (like you would with a bagel) for about half a minute, and then flip it back over. Set it on a clean dish towel to air dry and then brush it with melted butter. Before the butter gets a chance to dry too, gently sprinkled sugar on top. (If you sprinkle from about ten inches above it your sugar will fall over your crust more evenly). Place it back into your greased up skillet and bake for about 25 minutes at 360. When it is a healthy brown take it right out of the oven, free it from its pan, and set it to air on a rack or towel. Eat with real butter. Smile like the happy beast you are and take a bite.

Goose Bread. Hot damn, it's the next big thing.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

is there anything more beautiful?