Saturday, September 29, 2012

Glamping with Old Yeller

The last weekend in September marks a ritual gathering that has been going on for over 40 years - a group of folks from my small home town in MN meet in Bayfield, WI for a pre-Apple Festival weekend.

Not only is this weekend gathering a time-honored tradition, this group has been meeting and camping at the same campground for the entire four+ decades.

Many of the original folks still attend, but now they are accompanied by their grown children and numerous grandchildren.  Traditions like the Sat. night potluck and campfire stories are now being passed down to the third generation of campers.

Field road along the ridge

It is a gathering I look forward to almost as much as Christmas.

But this year, we couldn't go.  We have critters to take care of, and our trusty farm-sitter was out of town.  Being new to the area, we don't know a lot of folks to call on yet.

I was very disappointed. 

What could we do instead, besides work on the never-ending list of farm chores?

Go camping!  (Or as Mary Jane Butters would call it, Glamping!)

Old Yeller lights up the woods

We have 40 acres after all, most of which we have not even begun to explore.

There is one area of particular interest to both of us - a flat knoll on our high land that we would like to build our house on in a few years.  So I suggested to Papa Bear that we toss a few things in the back of Old Yeller and head up there for the night.

Papa Bear readily agreed, as he is a pretty 'fart smeller' when it comes to following my awesome suggestions.

Maple tree on the ridge

Since it was supposed to be in the high 30's F that night with no precipitation, there was no need to worry about bugs or a traditional tent.  A single-sized mattress borrowed from the Airstream Land Yacht and settled into the back of the truck and covered in thick sleeping bags would suffice for comfortable lodging.

After finishing up the late-afternoon chores and gathering up some extra clothing, tools and a cooler with dinner and breakfast items, we jumped into Old Yeller for our "long" commute to the top of our land.

A field road runs the edge of the flat hayfield up there, and beyond the homemade barbed-wire-and-wood-post gate, our destination.

I navigated through the tall uncut grass and Queen Anne's Lace now gone to seed ahead of Old Yeller, watching for large rocks that might damage her undercarriage.

I heart Queen Anne's Lace

Before long Papa Bear had her turned around with her tailgate facing our newly chosen campfire location.

With less than two hours of daylight left we now had work to do - build the rock campfire ring, cut firewood, and grill dinner. 

Somehow these chores didn't feel much like real "work," as the late afternoon sunshine sifted through yellow and red leaves and we basked in the joy of creating our small home - albeit a temporary one - where we hoped to build a real home some day.

It didn't take us too long after starting the campfire to realize we had nowhere to sit.

Sunlight filtering through the birch grove

No problem - I knew we had 2 folding chairs in the 'burb down at the house.  I could just run down and retrieve them with the ATV.

This is one of tremendous benefits of camping 5 minutes from home.  Nothing is too far away to retrieve, if you really need it. Of course half the fun of camping is 'making do' when you forget something. But I felt the chairs would be worth the trip down to the house.

While at the house I could also grab PB's water bottle and a couple of other things we realized we had forgotten in our spontaneous packing haste.

When I returned, the coals were getting hot and the brats were sizzling in the grill basket.

Grilled alpaca brats, a bottle of bluberry mead in honor of our 10th anniversary, some gourmet cheesecake bites, and a full moon rising in a clear sky.

It just don't get no better than this.

Fall-colored fern

(Although I still missed my peeps in Bayfield of course).

After cleaning up our few dinner dishes, it was dark enough to make a run back down to the house to shut the chicken coops.  I stayed to watch the fire while PB zipped down the hill.

I sat there in the quiet darkness, the only sounds coming from the crackling fire.  The full moon was almost over the treeline.

Then, time stopped.

Life gets pretty darn simple when you take away all of the distractions.

But there was one distraction PB wasn't about to go without this weekend - one technological necessity... watching a Netflix movie.  One hour of battery life on his laptop got us halfway through the movie The Help(An awesome movie by the way).

Every so often we'd pause the movie just to look around and watch the rising full moon and remind ourselves of the amazing theater we were sitting in, taking a moment to express our gratitude at being in such a beautiful place, a place that we were somehow magically connected to.

After the laptop battery quit,the bright full moon eliminated the need for flashlights as I made my way to my cozy bed.

Truck "bed"
A bright orange stocking cap covered my ears and Smartwool covered my limbs as I snuggled between the warm sleeping bags.

I was dozing before PB had finished burning through the pile of thistles I had cut earlier, flames dancing outside of my eyelids as dreams began to dance inside them.

It was the best sleep I've ever had outside of my own house.

Monet contemplating birch leaf breakfast

In the morning I walked down to the house (saying good-morning to Boo & Monet who sauntered up to the top of their fence line to see what the heck we were doing up there) to move the sheep and let out the chickens, while PB worked on cooking up pastured pork sausage patties and gluten-free oatmeal pancakes.

Gluten-free oatmeal pancakes with apples and cinna-nom

It was the best breakfast I've ever had.  Of course, I say that every time I eat when I'm camping. Or every time I eat outside.  Or every time I eat oatmeal pancakes.

We procrastinated as long as possible after breakfast before packing up our few things and driving back down to the house.

Make-do campfire grill support

One of the shortest camping trips ever - for sure - but also one of the very best.

Sometimes the simplest things in life are the sweetest.

Cheers -

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DIY homemade craisins

Anyone who knows me at all knows I like to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.

Not that I don't like to eat scrumptious food prepared from local ingredients - I do!!  This is a big reason we bought a farm, so that we could have more control over where our food comes from.

But in general, I'd rather be outside moving electric fences and scooping poo than inside a kitchen.

However, there are occasions when cooking must be done, and sometimes (argh!) even for a group of people.

Recently we had one of those occasions.

After a work conference I invited as many of my coworkers that could make it over to our house for a "farm dinner."

{six RSVP'd "yes."  Eleven showed up.}

My personal goal for this dinner was to source as many ingredients as possible locally.

You can see the entire farm-dinner menu at the end of this post.

Only one problem.  I needed craisins for the salad.  And, despite being only 30 miles from the Cranberry Capital of the US, I could not find any locally made craisins.

What the heck people?  Local cranberries but no local craisins?  Why that's just plain crai-zy.

So I got it into my head I'd just make my own.  And everyone knows once you get something into a Norwegian's head, it's pretty difficult impossible to get it out again.

That's why they say, "You can always tell a Norwegian, but you can't tell them much."

Anyway, back to crai-zy craisin-makin'.

DIY craisin ingredients - cranberries, sugar, water

I found this recipe here and decided to give it a try. 
  • 1 bag of thawed cranberries (I did freeze mine first as I had heard from a friend that helps the process if you're going to dehydrate them)
  • I cut each berry in half and kept chopping berries until I had 2 full cups worth. I think it was most of a bag's worth but am not sure, as I was finishing off half of one bag and starting on another bag.  This really didn't take as long as you might thing. I read you could also boil them until their skins pop.
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 cup of sugar (I used organic raw cane sugar, upping the qty as per recommendations in original recipe)
  • Dissolve sugar into hot water
soaking the cranberries

  • Stir in sliced cranberries (they float of course... so they won't all be submerged)
  • Soak for 30mn
  • Drain (the sugar water you soaked your cranberries in can make a lovely drink - just add soda)
Draining the craisins before they go into the dehydrator

Arrange on dehydrator trays (it took 2 trays for mine).  They are pretty sticky at this point so spreading them evenly on the trays can be frustrating.  Especially when the tray slips and half the cranberries fall into your dish drainer.

{Not that that happened, mind you}

DIY craisins ready to start drying

Dry for 6-8 hours.  My dehydrator does not have a heat selection setting so I turned it on and put an oven thermometer in it and it registered at 120 F.  I turned it off at 7 hours but could have done a little sooner I think.  It depends on how long you're storing them - if for awhile, you'd want them drier to avoid the possibility of mold.  I'm using mine in a few days so they could have been a little moister.

Dried craisins, DIY style!

Good for tossing into salads and holiday desserts, packaging as gifts, and adding to your favorite G.O.R.P recipe.  Pop a handful into your mouth for a quick snack on the run and smile at your own cleverness.

Cheers -

Our almost-100%-locally-sourced-farm-dinner-menu:

  • White chicken chili using our own pastured chicken (alas, I was unable to find locally grown cooking beans - even the Amish farmers around here buy their beans in bulk from cheaper sources)
  • Gluten-free cornbread (was unable to source local GF flour)
  • Cornbread toppings: locally produced honey and maple syrup and butter 
  •  Spinach salad (locally grown) with craisins (locally grown & dried), feta cheese (Organic Valley) and candied hickory nuts made with local maple syrup and our own hickory nuts 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunset at the Frisky Farm

I love The Pioneer Woman.

I love her photography.

I love her horses and her cattle and her children (especially since they are not my children).

I love her husband, Marlboro Man (but not in the same way I love my own husband, obviously).

I love that she puts a photo of every step of the process on her cooking site and in her cookbooks. If I ever get the desire to cook, her site is where I will go first.

But sometimes, she reminds me a little too much of perfect, and that makes me feel a little too much like inferior.

I only have 40 acres and my one child (whom I did not homeschool) is grown and gone, and most days I can't even find the time to post one blog post, much less take photos of everything on the farm/ranch, post in 7 categories on my blog every week, home-school four children, do laundry x 6, write multiple cookbooks and star on the Food Network.

All while posting to my blog daily.

Where did this woman come from, anyway?

I had dreams delusions of being like her when I had my own farm some day.

Then I got my own farm and realized, "Damn, this is a lot of freaking hard work and I don't have the energy to post to my blog every single day after chores and work and more chores and dinner and and how the hell does she???"

So I'm not trying to be PW anymore.

I still love her.

I still desire a bottle of whatever Essence of Endless Energy she must indulge in daily to do it all.

But I'm not her, and I'm never going to be her.

And I'm OK with that.

Growing up, I had a Perfect Sister.

If there was a Pioneer Woman of Sisters, she was it.

She got straight A's in high school.

She dated the hottest guy.

She got straight A's in college.

She never drank, smoke or got into any trouble what-so-ever.

She worked her a** off to get her M.D.

She married a very nice person who, ironically, has the exact same birthday as me.

They have four lovely children whom I am sure will all grow up to be doctors of lawyers or famous entrepreneurs.

She was recently voted one of the Top 50 doctors in the state.

When not doctoring, she throws fantastic dinner parties.

Even PW would be proud of her cooking skills.

Even her chickens are over achievers - she has 5 hens, and they lay 6 eggs/day.

I desire a bottle of whatever Endless Energy she must indulge in daily to do it all and a just a dash of her Dinner Party Diva-ness.

But I'm not her, and I'm never going to be her.

And I'm OK with that.

I grew up trying to be perfect.

I wasted a lot of time and energy in the process (ask my numerous therapists).

Nowadays, I'm celebrating being imperfect.

My 10 hens only lay 5 eggs on a good day, and the dishes may go unwashed for a week.

I may not know how to cook a steak on the grill, but I know how to skin and gut a chicken, weed-wack and set up a paddock with electric netting, trim sheep hooves and shear alpacas.

Instead of cooking and cleaning every evening, I do my critter chores then grab a cold drink and sit on my back step watching the chickens and turkeys pick a roosting spot (sometimes it's on my head), watching the sky turn pink then deep blue then black.

The stray cat trying to adopt us comes and begs for dinner and attention, which she usually gets.

I heat up leftovers or pop some popcorn in lieu of supper.

As I watch the stars appear out of a midnight black sky I think about my never-ending To Do list and about Being Perfect and I laugh, counting my blessings that I am not Pioneer Woman or Perfect Sister, so I don't have to fret about all of the things not being checked off of my To Do list tonight.

Then I go tuck in my chickens and call it a Perfect night.

Blessings -

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Young turkey on Gypsy Farmgirl's shoulder

Like every household, I have a "To Do" list that is never-ending.

Take tonight, for example.  I should be picking the ripe pears on our pear tree.

Yes, we have a pear tree. 

In Wisconsin.

There they hang, with the ladder beside the tree, visible from my office window where I now sit, taunting me with their "Do This Now" attitude.

(WI pears have attitude, in case you weren't aware.)

Instead I spent some extra time sitting in the fenced in yard with my youngest batch of chickens, which also includes a handful of Guinea fowl and turkeys.

For some reason, despite the rest of this flock being wild beyond wild, these turkeys are tame as tame can be.

Young turkeys roosting on Gypsy Farmgirl's head

And if I happen to be sitting in their yard around sunset, the two females have decided that I make about as good a roost as any in the coop.

A note about a turkey roosting on your shoulder, or head - their happy little peeping noises that are so endearing are SUPER LOUD when expressed right into your ear.

Nevermind though, I'm in heaven.

The pears will have to wait.

Cheers -
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