Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cambridge Balloon Festival is in Town!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Come to the Backyard Farming Fall Workshop!

Come to Cold Antler Farm this Fall for a Backyard Farming Workshop! It'll be held mid-October, Sunday the 16th, at the peak of Hudson Valley foliage, and should make for an amazing weekend of farming, fall leaves, and local sight-seeing. I'm announcing it early so folks who want to make reservations up here can (all hotels and B&Bs sell out by late summer). This workshop will not focus on any one thing in great detail, but cover what can be done in small spaces with backyard livestock, gardens, rain water collecting, canning (we'll make pasta sauce or jam and send you home with some!), and many other topics for home-food production. Everyone who comes will get a copy of Carleen Madigan's Backyard Homestead, and have time to enjoy the farm's food, music, and animals. We might just butcher a turkey and drink some home brewed Black Dog Stout, too!

Please email me if you would like details to attend.
Sign up soon! Limited to 15 people!

how to roast the perfect chicken

If there's one kitchen trick you should learn; it's how to roast a chicken. It's such a satisfying, savory, home-warming skill and the birds you roast can make up 3-6 meals spread out over just a couple dollars in flesh, potatoes, and carrots. Here's the way I do it: it's easy, inexpensive, and it always turns out wonderful. Prep time is just minutes, and you only need one pan, a bowl, and a knife to cut veggies with. Follow these directions and I promise you'll want to roast a bird every chance you get. I use an adaptation from the River Cottage Meat Book with brining options taught to me by Cooks Illustrated.

You'll need:

To Roast:
One small roasting chicken (3-5 pounds)
Olive oil (or warmed butter)
Rosemary, garlic, and sage (or commercial chicken meat rub)
Piece of tin foil
Roasting pan
Meat thermometer
3-4 medium potatoes
4-6 carrots

For Brining(Optional:)
Plastic gallon freezer bag
rosemary sprig
Bay leaves

Preheat your oven to 420 degrees. I know that seems high, but I'll explain later.

If you bought the chicken from the store, or if it was recently frozen, brining is the way to ensure your chicken roasts moist and savory, instead of stringy and dry. Take you whole bird and place it in a large freezer Ziploc bag (or saucepan if the bird is large) with about a gallon of water, 2/3 a cup salt, 3/4th a cup sugar, a sprig of rosemary and a few bay leaves. Let it set in the fridge for 2-4 hours (flipping it on its opposite side every hour or so). When you're ready to cook it, it'll be primed.

Take your fresh (or defrosted in the fridge) chicken and rinse it in cold water. I rinse out the cavity, under the wings, everything and then give it a few good shakes in the sink before I set it down into a large bowl. Set it aside and take out your roasting pan (I use a glass Pyrex pan) and cut up chunks of carrots and potatoes no larger than your thumb and make sure they coat the bottom of your roasting pan. (Besides cooking in the birds juices and fats, they'll act as a roasting rack, letting air under your bird and helping it cook thoroughly.) I always brush a light coating of olive oil and chicken rub spices over my veggies as well, but you don't have to. Set it aside and go back to your bird-in-bowl.

Take either room-temperature salted butter or olive oil and rub the entire bird over with the fat. When the meat is coated in one of these, take a knife and with the bird belly up, try to get your fingers right under the breast skin of the bird, sliding butter or oil into it, right over the breast itself. If the idea of an inner-skin massage makes you want to gag-then just use a knife and slide some cuts into the breast skin to allow air and steam to get between that skin and the muscles. (Trust me, it's worth it.) Last, take either crushed herbs (finely chopped garlic, sage, coarse salt, and rosemary) or a commercial chicken meat rub, and coat your bird entirely in this wonderful mix. If you want, tie the back drumsticks together with some butcher string (at your kitchen store), and then place it on top of your cut veggies. Now, open that oven door, baby.

Slide your herb-rubbed chicken into the oven at 420. This is the method of a flash of heat followed by a slower roast. Let it crackle and pop in there for 20-30 minutes and then lower the heat to 350 and cover the bird with a shield of tin foil lightly placed over it to stop the skin from scorching, but allowing it to get a little crispy. I then let the bird roast at least an hour, taking it out when the bird is a nice brown color to check temperature and other signs of "doneness". If your meat thermometer reads 170 degrees in the thickest part of the breast, you should be fine. Stab the birds skin to check that the juices run clear (not milky or red) and if you wiggle the legs they should be almost ready to snap right off in your hand. If your bird seems to have a lower temperature, just pop it back in for twenty minutes and try again later

If all the signs are good, let the bird sit for 20 minutes (the meat will keep cooking as it cools on your stove stop) then serve your white meat with a side of savory carrots and taters! Enjoy! And hopefully some of you readers out there can share some gravy and chicken stock recipes for what to do next!

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I walked into the barn tonight to check on the Palomino doe's kits (looks like seven: four black and three spotted) and was almost shocked out of my Muckboots by the unmistakable chorusing of chicks! peeeep peep peep beepbeep chirp chirrrrp chick birp click chirp cheep cheeep!

"I knew it!" I exclaimed in the barn, jumping in the air like I just won the lottery, sounding as vindicated as a crow on corn. "I just KNEW IT!"

For weeks I had been noticing less and less eggs around the barn, the Ameraucanas and Pumpkins weren't anywhere to be found. With the daylight hours just right and those hens in a safe big barn, I just knew that somewhere there was a broody hen sitting on a pile of eggs. I just didn't expect it to be ten feet in the air...

These six home-brewed chickens were found in the hayloft of the old barn. After a few minutes of pouring flashlight streams under rabbit cages and moving feed containers I realized all that chirping was coming from above. A Pumpkin Hulsey hen had made her nest right below the loft's front window. When I climbed that rickety ladder and saw six little poofballs running around, I scooped them up and put them in the egg basket. There was no water, no feed, and a ten foot fall to freedom for these little guys. What was their mother thinking? So I brought them indoors and let them join the 57 meat birds and 2-week old laying hen chicks in the now very-cramped brooder. But a tightly packed, warm, food-and-water stocked brooder bet the roomier outdoors tonight. A cold burst is swiping through Veryork, and they are even calling for frost in the northern mountains....These little guys didn't stand a chance outdoors unless their mama could wrangle them back to the nest. Not trusting her judgement, I took a few more of the eggs she was resting on and brought them into the brooder as well. Maybe some would hatch right here in the farmhouse.

The new loft residents are a mix of Pumpkin Hulsey and either Light Brahma or Ameraucana. These are the sons and daughters of Winthrop and Upset, and I hope a few make it right to the roaster or laying stage. I'm pretty stoked to know the bird population can find a way to sustain itself. Let's hear it for those fine people at Greenfire Farms, raising heritage birds who know how to get the job done right!

What a wonderful surprise. What a damn happy thing. And what a fine irony that right before I went outside to do my night chores I popped a chicken for the oven for dinner! One life taken, and six more welcomed in its place. You just don't get that kind of awestruck grace every day.

Here's to new life. This place is lousy with it!

come in, sit down

Every once in a while I like to do a roll call. If you would be so kind as to comment and introduce yourself to the comunity here, we can all catch up with one another. Tell me about your own farm, or future farm, or your city apartment and lack of a farm because you just like reading about this mess. Say where you're from, and what your own goals are.

If you don't mind, please let me know what it is you'd be interested to hear more about? More recipes? Essays? It helps me produce the content you're interested in. It also helps other readers out there realize they aren't crazy for wanting a Shire horse or Swedish Flower Hens in 2011. And you never know, perhaps someone will read through these and realize there's another urban homesteader right in their neighbrohood, or that your goat farm is literally down the road. I hope you'll all chime in. I'll start:

Hi, I'm Jenna from Jackson, NY. I'm in my late twenties, single, and spend my days as a web designer/author/blogger/shepherd. I have a little sheep farm here with my border colllie, chickens, geese, rabbits, turkeys, bees, and a cart pony in training. I'm an average gardener and just planted 85 potatoes. Some day I want to grow up and be a writing farmer for a living. I want this so much it hurts.

happy feet

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

this just in!

My little Palomino doe just kindled the first kits of 2011!

let's waltz, darling

Here's my version of Down in the Willow Gardens, our first Waltz of Banjo Equinox. Feel free to post (or repost) your videos here. Has everyone stayed with it? Has anyone up and quit? For those faithful players out there, have you had a chance yet to play near your gardens after a long day, or with friends at a campfire? I played some fiddle this past weekend at a campfire and let me tell you, it wasn't pretty. I'm out of practice and needing rosin, but I could still saw out an Irish Reel and it made a few hands clap. That's reason enough to order new rosin. These instruments come and go in waves of passion, I know. BUt I hope some of you have a steady marriage started with your drum pots. Let's hear some updates and some 3/4 time!

mushroomin' the ozarks

Via Tara on CAf's Facebook page


I have been getting emails about workshops, and when they are coming up. I have a Meat Bird Workshop This Saturday, June 4th, and a Sheep 101 workshop Sunday, June 19th. Meat Rabbits is in August, and I am considering a general Backyard Farming for Beginners Workshop for late July, and again in August and Sept. The Backyard Farming workshop will be an overview of growing food in small spaces and cover a basic overview of everything from beekeeping to butchering rabbits. If you're interested, let me know?

And another reader email brought up a suggestion I thought I would share. If you would like to come to a workshop at some point, but not sure when, but would like to pay a fixed tuition rate now to be used any time in the next three years? You can do that as well. Just email me for the details. Some folks like knowing they have paid up front and when the timing is right they'll just buy that plane, train, or bus ticket to Cold Antler.

an equestrian giveaway

I never intended to get so involved with horses, but I can't say I'm unhappy with the turn out. Last night I caught a sunset glimpse of my shadow on the pasture hillside. It was me all right, in a straw cowboy hat and standing next to this gray ghost was the shadow of my work horse, Jasper. Our silhouettes on the ground looked like rubber stamps of the wild west. Outlines of a time and place neither of us knew. We were both born and raised in the Northeast. Both of us started in Pennsylvania and ended up on a farm in New York. But in that waning light we looked like something as tough as rawhide, and I had to laugh out loud at the puppet show. I was a Hobbit, and Jasper was a pony. A barefoot farm girl and her pint-sized steed. We had been just working on the hill, weaving through the hillside and trees on a lead line, stopping and starting. Soon as I have the cash set aside I'll order him a proper harness and then I'll get him dressed in that and do the exact same thing. Eventually we'll start pulling light drags, and then I'll start ground driving from behind. It's a process, and while he might not need this slow training, I do. A first time driver and her first working cart pony...I'm taking it slow.

But last night, hoo. Last night I was at my weekly English riding lesson and I felt like I was trotting on air. After months of tense shoulders, fear of falling, and general stiffness I am starting to ride proper. Last night was my first lesson totally off the lunge line in a long time. Hollie had faith in my abilities, and for the first time, so did I. I felt so comfortable asking for that trot from my mount, taking her around the who arena. Working on my corners, my 20-meter circles, my seat, my hands and elbows. For a woman who spends so much of her time being coarse this is pure grace. The day before I was sweating bullets in the garden and a night later I was gliding like a seraphim. There's a reason little girls beg their parents for ponies. They want to fly.

Hollie's first riding book just came out. I'm so happy for her, and lucky to be learning to ride as an adult with such a patient and easy-going instructor. The book comes with a DVD too (It's the first English riding book to come with a video section for each chapter, explaining exactly how the words look from the saddle). The whole thing was filmed and written in the stables I am learning in, Riding Right Farm in South Cambridge, NY. I have a copy to give away here on the blog, which I will in this post. I just want to hear your thoughts on this:

How do you think horses will fit into our future? Do you think they will become more prominent as oil prices soar and peak and return again as our main source of travel and farm labor? Or do you think they will remain a hobby and sport? Do you live in an area where horses are in nearly every backyard as I do (1/2 acre trailer home lots have pony sheds around here) or do they seem to be the play things of the super rich in your neighborhood? Comment with your thoughts on horses in our homegrown future and you'll be entered to win a copy of Hollie McNeils's 40 Fundamentals of English Riding! Winner will be picked Thursday afternoon, check back to see if it's you!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

living out a colloquialism

There is something special about living out a colloquialism: which is exactly what I was doing. Barefoot in the potato patch sounded like a phrases said a million times to imply something, but I wasn't exact;y sure what? Going Six ways to Sunday day means a rushing effort, Lifting yourself up by your bootstraps means a self-imposed work ethic. So what did being barefoot in the potato patch mean?

It meant it was damn hot outside.

87 degrees and muggy as all get out. I had been unshod for most of the morning, liking the better grip and cool dirt under my hot feet. The bare feet gave me balance, and stepping over mounds and seed potatoes I even felt a little primal. It's a good thing, too, for a corporate employee to be sweat-stained and shoeless in brown earth as often as possible.

After five years of homesteading I still don't have a rototiler, so all sod is broken with a single hoe. I raise it up and then slam it down into the grass and lift up the earth's pretty covering of green to search for earthworm castings and dark earth. I hoe deep enough to bury each spud (or half of a spud, depending on how many eyes it had) into a grave and then cover it with dirt. They will be covered with compost and more mulch as the summer continues. I'm thinking about my summer commitment to this small backyard patch and wondering if I'm over my head this time. How will I store them all? Can I use the basement or will it be too damp? Should I use the closet under the attic stairs, or will that be too warm by the woodstove? After a while all these considerations got folded into the rows as well. Soon it was just the heat, my rhythm, and the voice of Barbara Kingsolver reading Prodigal Summer over my headphones.

When the first 65 were in the ground, I was beat, just plain whooped. I went inside to replenish some fluids and instead of walking back out to my hoe and sack I grabbed my drug-store spin reel and rod and headed for the pond. Sunday night I watched the Daughton boys reel in bass after bass from my little pond and I wanted to land one of those bigguns myself. So I headed down there with my twenty-dollar tackle and a package fo worms from Stewarts. The irony that I'm an Orvis employee was not lost. But when a girl spends the day working for her food, she doesn't want to hunt via dry-fly airstrike. She wants to trick some fish with live bait.

last night I realized something wonderful. Fishing is the one thing I need no distraction from. Everything else I do alongside something else. I hoe with headphones. I surf the net while watching a movie. I read in the bathroom...but fishing. I am 100% there. Hours flew by and I caught panfish and smiled. No bass yet. Just a girl in her straw hat with dirty feet, chucking worms and praying the snapping turtle isn't hungry for my lowest digits.

I came back to the farm an hour or so later. I had the guilt as heavy as a sack of seed potatoes calling me home. I hoped to plant 65 more, but gave up after 20 to return to the pond. Between the heat and effort, 85 poatoes was nothing to be ashamed of, and that's not counting the ten already in the raised bed with bushes high as my waist. One woman can get through a winter on 400 pounds of potatoes, for sure. So I fished until dark, still only hooking sun fish, and then eventually walking up the road to the house. I was so tired from the sun, planting, and angling I felt like I had been slipped cat tranqs. Just totally used up by that happy day.

I was sound asleep before dark.

Monday, May 30, 2011

there's no shame planting 85 potatoes—all in newly-broken sod.

the garden

This weekend is on its last leg, and the four days off from work have soared past me in a heat of road trips, television celebrities, workshops, bass fishing (biggun's in the farm pond!), chickens and campfires. Today is my last day of freedom. I'm planting as many seed potatoes as my little body can handle planting. Also, some sweet corn and pumpkin seeds to join into the started pumpkin vines I already set. I'm not showering until at least one or two grocery bags of spud seeds are in the ground. I know it seems late, but we wait here until early June to pass the life cycle of local potato beetles. Something I heard second-hand from Othniel who heard it from an old-timer. I suppose we'll see. My one row in a raised bed isn't going to do it for a meat farm. I am a hardy gal. I like mine mashed, fried, baked, and hashed and there is nothing more comforting going into winter than that primal smile that comes from a backyard full of livestock you can roast, a few stacks of cord wood, and bins of potatoes in the root cellar.

I've added a young hive to the arsenal, and hopefully it will help the garden and all the flowering trees and buds around the farm. They seem to be settling in, and working hard to get their new home furnished with comb as fast as possible. They are directly next to a giant honeysuckle bush so the drive for take out isn't too far. They don't seem to both anyone else: not the sheep, me, or Jasper. I am hoping to order him a proper harness soon so we can move from lead line training around the pasture to actual harness work, light and simple. But our time together is proving good and I'm comfortable with the pony faster than I expected to be.

Okay, off to plant those taters. Anyone want to guess how many I'll actually get in the ground? Whoever gets the closet will get a giveaway prize: a signed copy of Made From Scratch with a chicken feather bookmark. So let's hear those chance guesses!

P.S. I have laying hen chicks for sale if anyone local wants some. Five dollars each: Ameraucanas, Buff Orps, and Rhode Island Reds.