Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Currant Situation

I didn't even know what a currant looked like until a couple days ago, but apparently they grow like green beans in a corner of my Mom's yard. I picked a colander and a half and there were still hundreds of translucent, delicate red berries left in the patch.

Looks like Christmas in June!
With so many berries everywhere at once, one of my favorite things to do with them (beside cram as many in my mouth as possible) is to make jam with them, so I tried it out with the currants. Because I like seeds in my jam and I am impatient, I made jam with the entire fruit, but I think the regular practice is to drain the juice off and then make jelly with just the juice.

Love the little jars

Palate perfection

The farmer's market was as busy as I've ever seen it this Saturday and business was brisk; we have grass fed beef for sale and it was in high demand. Dan manages this cattle for someone else, then he purchases them, has them slaughtered and sells through his business; he is involved in their whole life cycle. A co-worker came out from Sacramento and bought some tri-tip which he said was the best meat he had ever eaten-it tasted sweet like candy! I still find it remarkable and encouraging to see so many people seek out quality food from local farmers and to see them consistently coming back because the quality is so high.

After the market, we barbecued 2 whole lambs for a special Greek dinner at Carpe Vino. It took about 3 hours of 'queing but the result was more than worth it!

And just a note of congratulations to childhood friend, Amy LePeilbet, and the US women's soccer team in the 2011 World Cup on their win against Korea Tuesday. Good luck in the rest of your games!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Eat

As Courtney exclaimed to me, we achieved "yogurt perfection" with our sheep milk yogurt this time! Because of possible contaminants (the ewe knocked the bucket a bit), we pasteurized the milk before we made the yogurt (heated it to a point to kill off dangerous germs). Pasteurizing also kills some harmless and useful bacteria as well and can destroy some of the nutritional content of the milk. There is an interesting article on Raw vs. Pasteurized milk here. Raw sheep's milk tastes more like ice cream than anything else, it is mild in flavor and easier for most people to digest than cows milk. It is definitly worth trying at least once in your life. Regardless, the finished yogurt was super tasty. There is one brand of sheep milk yogurt for sale in the area, I have found it at the Sac Co-op and Magpie Cafe thus far. 

On a seperate and equally tasty note, if you are in the mood for local food Saturday, we will be grilling lamb for a Greek feast at Carpe Vino restaurant in Auburn at 6pm. This is the third year in a row that Flying Mule Farm lamb has been featured in their feast and I am really looking forward to being part of it!!  (Looks like the weather will even cool down, yay!) Hope to see you there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Back to Work

After having last weekend off, I was recharged and ready to work this Saturday. Right now there are sheep spread out over 2 counties, so checking up on them all can be time and gas consuming. However, everything went smoothly this day and we finished early!

Ewes at the Old Chinese Cemetary

Ewes at Sierra College campus

Herding ewes at Whitney Oaks subdivison
There are also lambs in Grass Valley and rams, goats and guard dogs in Auburn!

No sense of personal space
During the summer when the grass is dried out there is not much protien or energy for the ewes to gain from it, so we supplement it with these tubs of molasses based, easily digestible protein and energy. The ewes all end up looking pretty silly with brown splotches from the molasses on their faces.

Taff the hot dog
 Getting enough water to the ewes is extremely important in the summer, for them to stay hydrated enough to keep eating the grass, as well as to continue moving around enough to trample what they don't eat.  When the sheep are out contract grazing, getting water to them creates all kinds of interesting logistical issues, such as:
       How do you haul a large amount of water? (a big truck and a big water tank)
       How much water can a truck hold (a gallon of water = 8 pounds)
       Where do I get water (fill up at home, look for spigots that aren't on lockdown near the sheep)
       How do I get the water from the tank in the truck to a barrel the sheep can drink out of (a series of gravity flow hoses, generally)

It's very easy to take water for granted in this counrty, but having livestock forces you to realize that the lives of all these animals depend on your ability to provide water for them. That is a lot of responsibility and if you are their shepherd, you don't get a day off.

Water is also a lot of fun, if you are Ernie
And to all the Dad's out there who work so hard and love their families so well, Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

So Sorry to Disappoint

This weekend I needed a break, my body practically demanded it, so I listened. I canceled my sheep work and laundry plans and was immediately met with overwhelming amounts of guilt and anxiety (I just know I let down everyone this weekend, they are never going to forgive me). Why do I do this to myself? I am so attached to my plans and expectations; to change them last minute leaves me feeling like I am treading water in the middle of the ocean...I'm sure there are sharks around, ready to sink me.

To escape these uneasy feelings (for the moment) and spend some time with animals, Matt and I hopped on our bikes early Sunday morning and spent the day at the Sacramento Zoo. I have gone to this zoo since I was young and I even worked on their yearly audit in a past life; the residents have a fond place in my heart.

The jaguars were really playful throughout the day

The leaves are always greener...

Who knew you had to look so weird to eat ants?
Later a post on disappointment by my yoga teacher, Michelle, hit me right in my distressed heart (how very timely!) My disappointment this weekend had more to do with not following through with my intentions, feeling like that somehow made me an ungrateful, less worthy person. When the reality is, I can't control how others will react when I assert my needs, I may let people down. But I can honor my feelings and recognize the value of this practice. And I am re-charged and ready to go next weekend!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taking Stock

This weekend was weaning time, despite the cold, soaking weather (in June!).  This meant separating the lambs from the ewes using the custom (homemade) portable sorting chute. My role was to catch a lamb, roll it onto its rump and hold it between my legs while Dan administered vaccinations and put in a permanent ear tag. I quickly became completely drenched, but wrestling the lambs is a good way to keep warm.

Roger, the county livestock adviser, getting ready to sort

It was also a special day because Matt and I have decided to become livestock owners-I picked out a lamb for each of us!  I picked a ewe (female) lamb that will be kept to breed in future years.  Matt wanted to get a wether (a castrated male lamb) for meat and to sell at the market late this summer.  I relied heavily on Dan and Roger's advice to pick lambs and ended up with some good size, healthy lambs.

My ewe lamb, Winky Jr.
This is her better side, look at that pretty face!
Matt's wether - no name for him
A wide loin is a good thing

I was exhausted and sodden after this work day but I did stop by Courtney's to milk her sheep and try our yogurt experiment again.  Glad to report, the yogurt turned out perfectly!

Denny, to answer your question, this is how you milk a sheep

Sheep only have two udders, same a goats, whereas cows have four. They don't like to be alone, so even though only one of these ewes is producing milk, we put two on the stands; this makes the one that is milking produce more milk and keeps the one that is not milking trained so she will (hopefully) behave when she does start milking again. And cleanliness is incredibly important when milking and handling raw milk; washing hands, washing udders, keeping milking pails covered etc.

A year ago, I would never have believed I would be doing this, much less enjoying it.  Life is certainly strange and happily surprising.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sweet (and salty) sucess

Last night I was perhaps overly ambitious; not that I was feeling all that ambitious, it just happened that several food-centric projects converged on the same evening.

I had been planning to make mozzerella cheese for the first time (with sheep milk!), I ended up with an overabundance of cherries (via my folks tree) and have a boyfriend who was craving cherry pie for a week. Dairy and dessert being two of my favorite belly fillers, I couldn't say no to either.

This being my first attempt at making cheese on my own, I decided to start with a kit from Ricki Carroll, the New England Cheese Lady. The mozzarella is pretty simple and took 30 or 45 minutes (will probably go faster with practice). Sheep milk has almost 3 times the fat content compared to cow or goat milk, so some adjustments have to be made to the recipe, mainly using about a 3rd of the rennet.

Stretching the mozzarella
Salted cheese chunks; I've yet to learn how to make them prettier
For the pie, Matt had previously pitted all the cherries (proof of his committed craving), so I made the filling on my lunch break from work, then threw the crusts together while waiting for the milk to heat and the curd to separate from the whey.  This cherry pie was really simple and very yummy, so I included the recipe below.

Lovely little dessert plates are a must

Cherry Pie - from

4 cups pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
1 to 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 tablespoon almond extract (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, to dot
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, to sprinkle

Directions - Place cherries in medium saucepan over medium heat and cover. After cherries lose considerable juice, which may take a few minutes, remove from heat.  In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cornstarch. Pour this into the hot cherries until thickened, stirring frequently. Add almond extract if desired and mix. Return mixture to the stove and cook over low heat until thickened stirring frequently. Remove from heat and let cool. If filling is too thick, add a little water, to thin, add a little more cornstarch.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1 pie crust (double for 2) - secret family recipe, makes a great crust every time

1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening (such as Crisco)
Mix together until pea size chunks form
Add 3 tablespoons water, mix together to form a cohesive ball

If doing 2 crusts, divide the dough in 2, then roll out dough large enough to fit in a 8 or 9 inch pie pan. Pour cooled cherry mixture into the crust. Dot with butter. Moisten edge of bottom crust. Place top crust on and flute the edge of the pie. Make a slit in the the middle of the crust for steam to escape. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.  Drool while it cools, then enjoy!