December 15, 2017

December Days Around the Homestead

December is plugging along, and it's hard to believe the month is half over! Its early days were beautiful. Autumn arrived late and lingered longer than usual, so the color and mild temperatures were still here to enjoy at the beginning of the month.

Colby and my blueberry bush. The bush was late to
turn this year, and never fails to offer eye-catching color.

An evening fire in the woodstove was enough to warm the house.

Sam never fails to get a comfy spot in front of the fire.

The afternoons were lovely so I spent them outdoors gathering kindling

The girls come along to hunt acorns and choice leaves.

or raking leaves to mulch the garden.

First bed done. There's something about the contrast
between the brown and green that makes me happy.

And we do have plenty of leaves to rake.

Meowy in the leafy woods.

Then our first winter cold front came through and we got rain and ...

Snow! Two inches on the first day and more the second. But
the temp didn't get below freezing so it didn't stick for long.

We don't usually get snow until January! December is now more like its old self with lows below freezing and highs above. On chilly or drizzly days, I'm in the kitchen with the wood cookstove going. I'm making jam and jelly from the fruits I froze last summer,

Blueberry-fig jam in the making. I'm using my homemade pectin
in this one and find the slow cooker works well to cook it down.

and bone broth and soup from the frozen bones.

Bone broth. Next I'll strain it and can it.

Besides working on the barn, Dan took down the last of our two old oak trees.

We've trimmed away the dead branches over the years
but this past summer was the end of it. It's dead now.

Always sad to see old trees die, but they inevitably do. Lots of firewood tho.

But! New life elsewhere. In the garden some of my late planted seeds are starting to sprout!

Mustard greens seedlings

Spinach seedlings

Honeybee on radish flowers

Every time I see honeybees I can't help but wonder where they came from and if they didn't originate from one of my absconded hives.

We're eating lots of salads, and still have the last of summer's tomatoes ripening in the house.

Our first frost was at the end of October and I picked these the day before.

Pretty soon I'll be pulling the rest of the tomatoes out of the freezer and making more pizza sauce.

Also starting to dream over seed catalogues.

Catalogues from Sow True, Baker Creek, and Strictly Medicinal. 

I haven't ordered seeds in several years, but I've really got a hankering to try something new!

So how is your December faring? Care to share?

December 12, 2017

Cranberry Apple Pie

I tried to grow cranberries a number of year's ago. They were called American Cranberries and didn't require a bog, so I thought they would be prefect for cranberry treats around the holidays. They didn't make it, unfortunately, along with a number of other plants I've tried over the years, plants that might be considered exotic for our area, such as a potted olive tree and rhubarb. But we love cranberries, so I like to keep a bulk supply in my pantry.

Dried cranberries - moist and sweet.

These came from a company I recently learned of which specializes in wholesale bulk - Gourmet Nuts and Fruit. Yes, they only sell nuts and dried fruits! They sell mostly at farmer's markets and online, and have good prices and good service. From their blog I learned that cranberries are antioxident, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. (Actually lots of excellent nutritional information there). So eat more cranberries, right? I think this pie is one way to do it!

Cranberry Apple Pie

  • 5 cups peeled sliced apples
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • About 2 tbsp butter

Roll out dough for pie pan. Mix filling ingredients and fill bottom crust. Cut butter into small pieces and dot filling. Add top crust and bake at 450°F (230°C) for 40 minutes or until done.

Colorful, festive, and delicious - all excellent qualities for a holiday pie.

We also like dried cranberries in spinach or broccoli salads with pecans or almonds. And they pair well with pumpkin or sweet potatoes, and I thought I had my "Sweet Potato Cranberry Bread" recipe on my Recipes Page, but I see I don't. No matter, that's the perfect excuse to make some.

Anyone care to share your favorite recipes for dried cranberries?

Cranberry Apple Pie © Dec 2017 by Leigh

December 9, 2017

2017 Homestead Goals: So How'd We Do?

It's that time of year when Dan and I take some time to analyze our plans and goals for our homestead. We start by taking a look our current list of goals: what we accomplished, what we didn't, and what caused alterations in course: weather, vehicle or equipment break-downs, trees falling on the fence, or tearing into a project to discover that a whole lot of preliminary work needed to be done first, etc.

Many of our goals are long term, so these we break down into manageable chunks. We had two major projects for 2017.

1. Finish the exterior of the house
  • front end gables
  • front window in sun room
  • front porch ceiling
  • last two windows in front bedroom
  • back end gable

Finishing the outside of the house is a carry-over goal from 2016 (longer actually!) We didn't get it all done, but we crossed off two of the five sub-goals, as you can see in these two photos.

December 2016

February 2017

Will we resume work on the house in 2018? I suppose most folks would consider the house a top priority, but our primary goal of self-reliance often pulls other things to the top of the homestead to-do list. What we can get to next year remains to be seen.

NOTE: For those of you interested in remodeling old houses, take a look at my Our Old House blog here. I haven't updated it in awhile, but there are lots of links to step-by-step and before-and-after blog posts and photos.

2. Build the barn

We've been talking about building a barn since 2013. We've gone through half-a-dozen plans at least, but it wasn't until last year that things finally seemed to fall in place. It started with Dan getting the sawmill. He went to work milling beams and posts, and we were ready to get started.

We probably would have the barn by now, except we were faced with a problem: roof rot in the current goat shed. If we did nothing, we would lose the building. After a long discussion we decided to save the building by re-roofing it. And since we were doing that, we enlarged it as well! So no barn for 2016. Finally, this year, we got to it.

April 2017

December 2017

Finishing the barn will be the number one project for 2018. As we contemplate other projects we're taking a look at our Master Plan with a few revisions in mind. More on all that soon.

How did you do on your 2017 goals? Any carry overs for next year? Or are you getting ready to make new ones for 2018? Do you have an evaluation process to help you prioritize them? It's not always possible to stay on track, but I find having a plan in place really helps.

December 6, 2017

Fried Cheese

Remember fried cheese sticks? They were the rage once upon a time, usually mozzarella, sometimes cheddar, made by battering frozen cheese sticks and popping them into the deep fryer. Crispy on the outside, melty on the inside; a favorite of any cheese lover! When I found a photo of fried sliced cheese in David Asher's The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, I thought it would make a great side dish for burgers. 

The frying cheese I made is known in many cultures by different names. We usually see it called Paneer or Panir (Indian) or Queso Blanco (Mexican). The recipe is the same as for whole milk ricotta. In the U.S. it's sometimes called Farmer's Cheese, although that is more of a category of fresh cheeses than a specific kind. No matter the name, it's probably the simplest cheese to make.

  • 1 gallon milk (any kind except ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1/2 cup vinegar (any kind), lemon, or lime juice or 1/2 gal. yogurt or kefir
  • 2 - 3 teaspoons salt (optional)

Heat milk to boiling (stir to prevent scorching), gently stir in the vinegar, and let rest for about ten minutes. Carefully scoop out the curds, let them drain, salt if desired, and hang or lightly press in cheesecloth.

Yield: One gallon of milk gives me about two pounds of cheese. This is heavier than most, because boiling the milk plus adding an acid captures both milk proteins: casein and albumin.

Once it's cool it can be sliced or cubed and when cooked, it won't melt! That's what makes it popular for frying, plus all sorts of vegetarian dishes in place of tofu.

To fry: slice and brown in your favorite fat or oil.

Variation: In Northern Caucasia (where it's called Circassian cheese), slices are dipped in egg and bread crumbs before frying.

To store: As a fresh cheese it won't keep long, about a week without salting, several weeks with salt. It's one of the few cheeses that can be frozen, however, which is appealing to me since my milk supply is seasonal.

The flavor can be changed by changing the acid used and adding herbs and spices. After a successful plain version, I tried an Italian version.

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 - 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian herbs

To fry: slice and brown in extra virgin olive oil until crispy.

A delicious accompaniment to pasta and your favorite sauce!

Hopefully I can get a couple of these tucked away in my freezer before my experiments in cheesemaking come to an end for the year. I am now milking only one doe instead of three, so I have less milk to work with. She's giving me a gradually decreasing quart per day, but hopefully she'll stay in milk until kidding next spring. It won't be enough for cheese, but if it's enough to keep our kefir going I'll be happy.

I have one hard cheese aging in wax. Only one as an experiment in curing without a cheese cave. If it turns out well, I'll tell you about it.

Fried Cheese © Dec. 2017 by Leigh

December 4, 2017


The upcoming Back To Basics Living Bundle is still looking for authors who would like to participate! This is an eBook bundle loaded with resources on topics such as:
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  • homesteading
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  • frugal living
  • homeschooling
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If you've written an eBook on any of these topics and would like to participate, click here! Please use my name as your referral.

Haven't written a book? Maybe you have a how-to blog post or series of posts on any of topics. Copy and paste them into your word processor and export to pdf. You have an eBook! Or maybe you have a video, an online class, or a downloadable you can offer. If so, you can participate too! Click here to sign up and please use my name as your referral.

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  • New authors (never been in a B2B bundle before) receive a 50% commission for each bundle they sell plus + 20% of the author bonus pool.
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Honestly, I'm not at all a salesy person, but this product is such that you don't have to give a hard sell or try to talk folks into buying it. The bundling allows for the cost of each book to be very economical and the information is the kind of thing that folks can use. It's one of the few things I participate in because I think it's a service to others. 

So, if you're interested, click here. Or if you know someone you think might be interested, have them come take a look. As always, I'm happy to answer questions. 

December 2, 2017

Milking Room Roof Phase 2

If you guessed "polycarbonate panel skylight" in my "Milking Room Roof Phase 1" post, you were correct! Here's where we left off ...

We had 14-foot metal roofing panels with which to cover 16 feet. The problem, however, lent itself perfectly to use translucent roofing panels to allow in some natural light.

Locally, we couldn't find anything with the same profile as our metal panels. Shipping them was out of the question, but Dan thought he could work out how to put two different styles together. Lowe's best quality translucent panels were half-off, for which the timing was perfect. Even so, we waffled a bit before committing to a purchase. In spite of the manufacturer's claims, they seemed pretty flimsy for the job.

Because of the sale, a new lot of panels were in the rack along with a few old ones. We compared the two by heft and feel, and even though they were supposedly the same product, the old ones seemed heavier and thicker than the new batch. They were a bit dusty and scuffed, and the labels were dirty, but those are the ones we took: 2, 12-foot translucent polycarbonate roofing panels.

Dan cutting the panels with tin snips. Masking tape protects the cut edge.

2, 12-foot panels gave us just what we needed. 

Working on the skylight panel with DIY Swiss seat, just in case.

By the time Dan added another nailer on the roof and screwed each ridge of the panel down, they were stiffened up a bit. Then he added a 1x1 down the center for added support.

Hopefully we'll get a long life from them. I like my solar barn light, but even better, I like having as much natural light in the barn as I can.

Next will be the roof for the hay loft.

Milking Room Roof Phase 2 © Dec. 2017 

November 29, 2017

Milking Room Roof Phase 1

It's amazing how motivating it is when a project begins to take shape. Reaching the point where it's time to do the roof certainly gives a barn shape to our barn! After building the loafing area overhang on back of the goat barn, Dan spent a couple of days milling nailers for the milking room roof.

He started with the milking room, because we already had some of the metal roof panels. The milking room is the one section of the barn on which they will fit.

We bought them last April when we thought we would renovate the old carport. Then we discovered how badly rotted the carport roof beams and rafters were under the fascia board and abandoned the project. 

The panels are 3+ feet wide, so six of them covered the 16-foot width with a ten-inch overhang on both front and back.

A fascia board was added over the ends of the rafters to accommodate a gutter.

The only "problem" is that the panels are 14-feet long, whereas the length of the roof rafters is 16 feet.

That meant a two-foot gap at the top of the milking room roof.

However, problems are simply doorways to creativity! Can you guess what we're going to do with the gap? I bet you can!

Click here for "Milking Room Roof Phase 2."

Milking Room Roof Phase 1 © Nov. 2017 

November 26, 2017

Sabbath Brunch

Dan works weekends, so we observe another day of the week for our seventh-day rest. We find it physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually important to take a weekly reset. As part of the slower pace of that day, we eat breakfast after morning chores instead of before, and I make something special, like blueberry pancakes. Cooking them on the wood cookstove with the cast iron griddle makes them all tastier!

Sabbath Brunch © Nov 2017 by Leigh

November 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Fetas

In my last cheesemaking post I mentioned how even small changes in the making of a cheese can make a difference in the results. Here's an example of two fetas. The photos below were taken after each was pressed and sliced. They look like very different cheeses!

Feta #1

Feta #2

Quite a difference, eh? Both are made from my goat milk, following the same recipe with only a few differences.

Feta #1
  • whey as a starter culture
  • heat maintained at 90°F (32°C)
  • light pressure in the cheese press

Feta #2
  • kefir as a starter culture
  • heated (accidentally) to 100°F (37.7°C)
  • firmer pressure in the cheese press

Interesting, isn't it? For each feta I salted the slices, allowed them to air dry, placed each in it's own jar of brine, and allowed to age in the fridge.

Taste test results?

Top: Feta #1; Bottom: Feta #2.

Dan was recruited as my taste tester. He thought the biggest difference was in texture, but the flavor was very similar and very good.

Feta is traditionally a salty cheese, so I add no extra salt when I use it in cooking. We've been enjoying it in salads, scrambled eggs, and omelets.

Homegrown salad

Do you see why cheesemaking is so challenging on the one hand but so intriguing on the other? It's a good thing I'm not a perfectionist! The potential for subtle but delicious nuances is endless!

Feta #1 stored in herbed olive oil with fresh sprigs
of thyme and rosemary. After we eat the cheese
the oil will be used for salads and sautéeing.

As Dan says, how could anyone ever get bored with homesteading?

A Tale of Two Fetas © Nov 2017 by Leigh

November 20, 2017

Goat Barn: Loafing Overhang

In my last barn blog post I mentioned that the next thing to do was to build a loafing area for the girls off the back of the barn. This will be an open area that will protect doorway from rain, especially heavy rains that make the area muddy. That was Dan's project last week.

The bent laid out on the ground.

Knee braces

Dan drills a hole in the bottom of the posts and sets them down on top
of the rebar. That way they don't kick out on us while securing the bent.

Raising the bent.

Securing it.

Plus roof rafters!

Next will be nailers for the entire roof and then the sheet metal!