Quick Pickled Veggies

We have beautiful cucumbers and vibrant red carrots coming up in the garden.  Lush, fragrant basil, and bok choi leaves.  I have jars and jars of pickles I put up from last year but I wanted something really crisp and refreshing.  These are great to serve with any meal.  They are nutritious and little something different.  Quick pickled veggies are great on sandwiches, on fish, or on their own!  As the jar empties, you can always throw in another cucumber or carrot (or onion, or garlic, or beet…) to keep the batch going.  I suppose after a few rounds you will have to pitch it and make more.  But that’s okay, because it is super easy!

 

20180719_070512In a wide mouth pint jar add chopped veggies that would seem good pickled.  Add in a good sprinkle of salt and some pepper.  Maybe a little hot pepper.  I filled 1/3 of the jar with rice wine vinegar and 1/3 of a way with white wine vinegar that my friend, Rodney made.  Then I topped it off with a little filtered water so that the veggies are submerged.  Replace lid and shake.  Place in fridge for at least an hour.  Farm fresh eating!

How to Make Easy Farmer Cheese (and supporting your local farmer)

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A ex dairy farmer who then has to begin purchasing from other farmers has a small heart attack when billed.  Never mind the cost of sweet feed, alfalfa, minerals, milking implements, and boyfriends, we don’t see all that, we just hear $8 for a half a gallon of fresh, frothy, raw milk.  $6 for free roaming delicious eggs.  “Oy, I used to get that for free!” I yelp. (Of course it wasn’t free…)

Okay, so yes, for a buck fifty you can get subpar, pasteurized, feed lot cow’s milk.  Some cheap eggs from chickens that don’t move…ever.

Now, relooking at costs.  I made 3 cups of fresh farmer cheese last night for the cost of the milk.  $8.  If we consider how much 4 ounces of goat cheese or farmer cheese costs in the store (around $5) we can easily see the deal we are getting.  This constitutes the protein in a meal, so replaces meat.  Eggs make several meals and additions to recipes, making it a very economical meal, even at $6.

The key is changing one’s perspective that farm food is the same as supermarket food.  It is much higher nutritionally and much more delicious.  It provides more meals at home around the table.  And helps a farmer.  We are a dying breed.  Women farmers represent 20% of all farmers.  But with up to 5000 farmers calling it quits (or losing, like we did) we need to support local agriculture.  We just have to.  I’ll be joining the ranks of women farmers again but I cannot have goats in the city we are moving to so no milking…yet.  In the meantime, I will support a farmer.  It is well worth the extra few bucks.

Here is an easy recipe for farmer cheese.  You can use store bought milk but if you can get a half gallon of raw, please do so.

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Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into pot and heat over medium heat stirring often until just boiling.  Turn off heat.

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Pour in 1/4 cup of homemade red wine vinegar (click here for the recipe), other vinegar, or lemon juice.  Watch the curds separate from the whey.  If needed add another 1/4 cup.  The red wine vinegar makes a pretty color.

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Once separated, pour into a colander lined with good cheesecloth.  I mean it, spring for the good cheesecloth.  (Geez, I don’t even have clothes pins anymore.  I am starting my homesteading journey again from scratch!  I used a headband to secure the cheesecloth to the colander.)  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sea salt over cheese.

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Fold sides together and hang off the side of the pot for 2-12 hours.

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When finished, remove cheesecloth while placing cheese in bowl.  From here you have a very plain tasting cheese.

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Here I added 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning.  1 teaspoon of truffle salt.  A drizzle of garlic oil.  1/4 teaspoon of pepper.  A dash of sugar.  Use hands to combine and crumble.

Other ideas would be sugar and cranberries, and orange zest.  Or minced garlic and chives.  Use your imagination!  Put in enchiladas, lasagna, in salad, on crackers topped with jam.  Homemade cheese is an easy homesteading staple!

The Meat Dilemna (what’s a nice vegetarian girl gonna do?)

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There has been a huge gap for me to cross.  One that I started in my heart when I was a child.  Not wanting animals to suffer led me to becoming a vegetarian.  Outside of a few times when I was a teenager, I have been a vegetarian for twenty-seven years.  When I was fresh out on my own that looked like Hamburger Helper without the hamburger and other processed foods that resembled sustenance.  As I grew more conscious I then created two vegetables, a grain, and a veggie meat dinner.  Better, I am sure, but the canned vegetables and “whole wheat” breads of my youth were growing old.  Then Doug and I started eating fresh vegetables, or ones we canned, along with homemade bread, and veggie meat.

food incOur entire reason for being vegetarian was to lead a more compassionate life, to assure that no animal would suffer because of us.  Sickened by the documentary “Food Inc.” we became vegan.  Suddenly aware that we were living a lie this whole time, we quit all animal products.  Being vegetarian includes dairy.  Dairy comes from milk cows who are repeatedly bred, who live in an enclosure, who lose their babies immediately so that we can have the milk, then are slaughtered a few years later for meat.  Cheese is made by using rennet.  In other words the stomach lining of a calf.  Being vegetarian is not being vegetarian at all!  So we bought vegan products, and ate pretty good, I suppose, but we still were eating a lot of veggie meats and processed foods.

We got our own chickens and started eating eggs again.  Our own.  Delicious and far better than anything at the grocery store. We tasted some of Nancy’s goat milk a year or so back and loved it.  We decided to get a milk goat.

I started to wonder about the meat and dairy substitutes.  Each one had slowly been bought up by larger companies.  The ones that promote mass feed lots, genetically modified ingredients, and hormones.  I noticed that the veggie meats and non-dairy milks had a lot of ingredients that I did not recognize.  A lot of items that were listed were not organic.  For instance, Silk says they don’t use genetically modified ingredients.  White Wave used to own them and did use 100% organic and non-GMO soy, but Dean Foods owns it now (they also own Horizon organics) and their organic line is something to be desired with their heavy use of feed lot techniques and they do not promise not to use non-GMO ingredients. Coconut milk, cheese substitutes, and veggie burgers have their own lists of unknown products.  I began to question how healthy these items really are.

I started to look around at my friends’ farms.  John hunts and in one fell swoop can take down a deer.  Not fifteen, just enough to feed his family.

My friends have their cows slaughtered by a single shot to the forehead.  The cow never sees it coming.  This comes after living a pretty cushy life out in the pastures grazing in lush grasses and eating delicious hay.  Cows probably shouldn’t grow old.  My joints kill me as it is in the winter, can you imagine carrying that much weight and getting old?  Wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

chicken picSimilarly, chickens are running around one second, beheaded the next, never knowing they are about to meet their maker.  Other poultry the same.  As Suzanne McMinn says in her book “Chickens in the Road”, they have a lot of good days and one bad day.  That struck me.  We will all meet the Creator at some point, be it by car accident, cancer, or some other way.  We will all go.

I wonder though what right I have to take a life.  Life is sacred.  I could no more smash a butterfly then kill one of my chickens.  My cat can swoop up a mouse (or hamster unfortunately), kill it, and not feel a smidge guilty.  Same with coyotes, foxes, owls, any other predator.  I used to tell people that we are not predators.  Imagine running naked after a rabbit, actually catching one and eating it bare toothed.  It creates a vivid image, and one I used to prove my point that we are not meat eaters.  But, flea beetles met their match in the garden with me.  I’m fine with wasps killing larvae for me.  Everything else can do my dirty work.  I don’t think about big fields of vegetables and the animals that were displaced or worse in the process.  Ignorance is sometimes truly bliss.

We could live on lentils, beans, and nuts.  We can grow a small amount here, so I have to depend on the farmers that are growing them to not kill any animals in the process.  I can eat only vegetables and fruits from my garden.  Or my friend’s garden.

One day, I gave up.  It is hard to give up something you have actively advocated for the better part of your life.  Not to mention that Doug and I feel so strongly that veganism is healthier than meat eating.  There is solid proof that animal products cause many of the top killers; heart disease, stroke, cancer, toxicity in the body.  We began to analyze these things though.  I have no doubt that the way that animals are treated in factory farms, the way they are abused in slaughter houses, the hormones and anti-biotics they are pumped with throughout their lives, the genetically modified grains they are fed, and the dyes that are often added equal one heck of a cancer dinner.

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Our forefathers ate meat. Not as much as current society does, but they did eat meat.  Their own meat.  Their own pasture fed, free roaming animals sans anything extra meat.  They ate everything organic.  The chemical revolution that was disguised as forward thinking in farming post World War two with all its extra chemical warfare to do something with had not yet arrived.  Homemade breads and fresh vegetables and humanely provided meat started to appeal to me as a much more natural existence in this farming life we have chosen.

John was overjoyed that we had come to our senses and gave us a pork roast, some chops, and a huge hunk of venison, that I can only imagine (but tried not to) was the shoulder.  Debbie brought us some of her fresh beef.  We bought organic chicken raised in Boulder from the health food store and it felt oddly satisfying and comforting to have a freezer full of vegetables and meat.  Not an emotion I ever thought I would have.  Now, once a month we go to the store and stock up on organic meat.

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Then came the question of what happens if we have a boy duck.  I started out by saying, “We can pay someone to….”  Doug interrupted me hurriedly to finish my sentence, “to take him to the animal swap?” We are not really ready to slaughter or pay someone to slaughter our animals.  But, why would I take a perfectly healthy, likely spoiled rotten, organically fed plump duck to the animal swap, then go buy an organic one from the store that I do not know how was raised?  This is getting silly, really.  Are we going to eat meat, or not?  At some point we will have to learn how to provide our own sustenance.

I am getting ahead of myself though.  Hell, two months ago we were vegetarian.  Tonight we eat organic pork chops with mashed potatoes and carrots that were from the garden.  A loaf of homemade French bread from organic grains.  Local wine.  I am getting closer to what feels like a healthy, natural way of eating.  Farming does that to you.

Four Star Farmgirl (meal planning and movie stars)

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We celebrated our anniversary this weekend with a stay at a four star hotel in downtown Denver.  It is a very old building with excellent service and two four star restaurants and lush surroundings.  We were standing in the foyer the other night looking at one of the menus.  A gentleman sat to our right.  He had passed us walking down the street earlier and now sat near us.  Doug whispers (probably a bit too loud), “Don’t you think that guy looks like a mix of Clay Aiken and Martin Short?”  He looked right at us.  I said, “No…maybe a little like Martin Short.”  Of course it turned out that it was Martin Short!  The weekend was accentuated by fancy restaurants with dime sized danishes for seven dollars, two ravioli for fifteen (a steal, I am sure), and very loud traffic, screaming homeless people, giggling drunk girls, and ongoing construction through paper-thin windows.  We did enjoy all the mouth-watering food, never having to open a door, delicious twelve foot windows to look out while sipping coffee and three days of doing nothing or whatever we pleased.  A fabulous weekend all together.  I type this in our beautiful hotel room as we prepare to go back to the country.  Back to peace and quiet.  I will have to start opening my own doors though once I get back.  I could be waiting on the porch for a long time.

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After weeks of celebrations and eating out and spending near fortunes (all worth it for fabulous food and company) it is time to get back to being a proper farmgirl.  And proper farmgirls meal plan.  Not meal plan like when I was first out on my own when it was imperative to do so because I was so broke.  Monday- Mac and Cheese, Tuesday- Hamburger Helper, Wednesday- Ramen Noodles.  Lord, how did we ever survive our twenties on meals like that?!  Now we meal plan because of health, finances, and because we desire good food!  No matter how good the food was at Cru or Kevin Taylor, it was probably genetically modified, not organic, and who knows where it came from.  I like to know what I am putting on the table!  Fresh, organic, grew it myself maybe (in the years to come, that will increase dramatically), homemade.  I love to eat like I am in a four star restaurant and I think for a hundred and twenty dollars I could have put on a better feast!  Infused oils, fine salts, fresh herbs, brightly colored produce, and homestyle cooking make life very nice indeed.  Add to that a glass of great wine (for less than twenty-five dollars a glass) and you are in business!

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However, after a long day of cleaning house, tending to business, taking care of animals, running errands, and a short attention span, if I don’t have a menu planned out, forget it…we’ll be eating Chinese food.   And I don’t really like Chinese food. I would much rather have my own cooking, I just need a bit of preparation.  I tried meal planning a week of meals in advance.  Beautiful, but by day eight if we didn’t get to the store we were out to eat.  I tried meal planning for three weeks.  Lost interest after two weeks.  So, two weeks of meals seems to be the magic number.  I have to drive to town to the health food store to obtain ingredients so every two weeks works for me.

I have begun checking out two library cookbooks each week and making my meals from there.  Mind you, I never follow recipes.  I can’t.  Too many variations and ways to make it better!  But I get fabulous ideas and general guidelines and each week is a new theme or book.  Cowboy cooking and slow cookers this week.  One pot meals and fresh Tex-Mex next plus plenty of personal inspiration.  Little House on the Prairie cookbook and Farmer’s Market Cooking the next.  I am determined for the next several weeks (okay, except the night we go to Evergreen for Doug’s birthday with our dear friends, Monte and Erik, for a ‘could die of happiness, the food is so freakin’ good’ meal) to make and stick to meal plans, eating at home every single night of the week, plus lunches and breakfasts at the table as well!  We will feel better, will not be overly full, will have lots of extra money to put into the homestead fund, dinner will always be available to children passing through or drop-in friends, and evenings at home are marvelous and fine.

Remember when you are meal planning to take some things into consideration: If you need to pack a lunch or dinner, make it picnic food.  If you know you will have a terribly busy day, plan for the slow cooker.  Have a nice mix of leisurely dinners like homemade pasta, and quick dinners like potato soup so that you are prepared.  Have plenty of ideas and ingredients to make impromptu dinners if you couldn’t get to the store after two weeks.  Eat plenty of colors even in the winter.  Kale, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, squash, beets…beans of all sorts and lots of garlic.  Soup is fast and easy!  Leftovers are your friends for lunches.  Above all, enjoy the sensory and tactile experience of foods.  Enjoy the process of making it, serving it, eating it whether with others or alone.  Perfect the art of making sauce.  Sauce makes everything special.  Candlelight and good music a must!