Beyond

I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

30 days, a few more days

It's been a week since the last post, but I haven't been inactive - I promise!

Day 9 involved cutting the goal down to make it more manageable. But I was on track so while I could see the merit in it (really, in the flush of the new year, who hasn't set an unrealistic goal and then tanked on it later?), I didn't cut back on my goal.

Day 10: Identify what stops me short and trips up my goal. For me in this goal, it really came down to distractions and feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what we have in mind, and the realization that we have no firsthand experience in this. Farming has been quite a learning curve.

Day 11: using "if-then" statements to counter those obstacles. For me, it was if I was feeling overwhelmed, then I'd remember how far we've come. I'd power through distractions as needed. The research needs to happen. Granted, it's not too hard when I'm enjoying the learning.

Day 12: data! Getting data to help track goals. While I can't measure this in terms of pounds lost or website hits, I talked to D about streamlining the excel spreadsheet I use to track info on the farm. I used one last year but am not the spreadsheet guru that he is. He enjoys it. For real. So I'm enlisting him to make something less clunky for this year.

Day 13: remembering that someone has gone through something like this before, and learning from them. We've been reading books along these lines, so that's covered. And hooray for online forums where asking "why is my chicken doing this?" are actually answered!

Day 14, reading up on my goal, obviously meshed with this. For now I'm reading the practical how-to guides about the things we want to do, but a huge inspiration for me was The Dirty Life (not as kinky as it sounds) by Kristin Kimball. Her story of starting a CSA farm is funny, touching, and inspiring. I've read it twice now and will be going back for more.

And now we are at Day 15: half way through. Today's question was, where am I in this? 

So. 

I have read several books and determined a few things for the farm this year. Some yet to come, but we have a starting point and will have a well-researched shortlist by the end of the month.

Bees have made the list. I'll have to figure out a lot more, but the two books I read have encouraged me that we can do this. There's such an art about it that I know I will be learning and getting stung, but I'm looking forward to the learning (not the stinging so much).

Pigs have made the list so far. I have to source the beginning and end of the process, but the raising will be well within our ability.

Turkeys are looking possible. A book to research more on this has come into the library today, so I"ll be picking that up.

The field garden will be doubled. We'll repeat many of last year's new crops and add a new one: sweet potatoes.

A greenhouse, which I'd love to have, likely won't make it this year. Oh well, as the farmer's credo goes, there's always next year.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

30 days, day 8

The idea of today is to visualize. To think ahead to what we want the goal to look like. Tapping into another sense to refine and solidify a goal that can feel like threads that waft through the air and slip through fingers.

My goal, a shortlist, isn't very visually exciting. But what that list makes possible? That excites me. 

The fact that the goal takes place during summer days, surrounded by warm brown earth and cool green plants, is a bonus when outside everything is white, windy, cold, and icy. On a day when D left for work unsure whether the 4WD pickup could blast through the drifts that had blown into our laneway, thinking of peeping chicks and ducklings and getting my hands into the soil are especially nice images.

So today while I'm doing the mundanity (not really a word but I just made it up and it follows grammatical rules of suffixes. So there) of research and such, I'll hunt for some photos of things we're thinking of. I'll sit with a cup of tea and leaf through the seed catalogue that arrived last month and fill my mind with reminders of sweet peas right off the vine and baby carrots pulled and brushed clean.

It is good to remember that someday this...

... will return to this. That I will walk out and feel the grass under my toes and hear birdsong on the wind that today merely howls angrily.

And I will have to remember that while I spend the two hours needed to snowblow this.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

miscellany:macarons

recipe from my class
This isn't a food blog, at least not officially. It started as a 'hi, I'm here' blog, an outlet for my desire to write stuff about stuff. Music, making a CD, living on the farm, running and how I hate it, deep(ish) thoughts. Then the food started. It has sort of taken over, but it and farming are the things I enjoy writing about just now.

Last weekend, thanks to a gift certificate from my parents, I got to go to a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Just walking through those doors feels good. I took a short course demo on macarons, and have tried them once at home. While I'd love to say I mastered the technique in one go and made amazing, lovely macarons, this would be a lie. But hey, they tasted good! It was one of my most ambitious baking projects, at least as far as technique went. There seem to be so many places where things could go wrong with this. But, here's take one.

First lesson: this. 
THIS IS IMPORTANT.


I started by preparing things: almond flour, icing sugar, egg whites, and granulated sugar. While measuring things out on my new digital kitchen scale, my first thought was "kitchen scale, where have you been all my life, and why was I so foolish not to get you earlier?" It's wonderfully foolproof for measuring. But I digress.


dear mixer, I love you.
Almond flour and icing sugar went in the food processor for three minutes to make the powdery stuff even MORE powdery. Then sifted to remove any bits that continued to dare to be non-powdery. This sat in a little mound on parchment paper while I whipped the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar. The sugar was gradually added and the mixture beaten to stiff peaks. Easy enough, I've made meringue loads of times. The flour mixture was then folded in carefully, preserving the air in the egg whites. Again, I've done this, while making angel food or chiffon cakes.


ready to pipe!
Once that was done, the mixture had to be carefully deflated. Which, in class was where I looked up quizzically from my notes to ensure the chef had said what I thought I'd heard. The big no-no in meringue is a required step here. And the technique specific enough to the cookies, he told us, that to do this is to macaroniser, a verb I have likely conjugated entirely incorrectly.  This was tricky, because whether you've done it enough is determined by carefully watching the mixture until it has a sheen and forms a ribbon, falling off the spoon and not holding peaks properly. It had me wondering if it was runny enough but not too runny, trying to remember what I'd seen in class. It was also tricky because I wanted to eat it. But I dutifully mushed the air out of the mix and tested it until it seemed about right. Under- or over-deflating would make substandard cookie texture.


drying cookies
Colour was added (macrons are delightfully pretty cookies, as any tray of then illustrates well) and the... hmm. Batter? Dough? I really am not sure of the best term here. It was more runny like a batter. Either way, it was carefully piped onto parchment paper to sit and rest. I was happy to see the rounds end up like they were supposed to, though my piping technique leaves a bit to be desired (read: I suck).

The macarons then have a nap. They sit on their cooking sheets, waiting to dry. Which, chef told us, could take anywhere from half an hour on a dry day to a couple of hours on a humid summer day - which is the reason you never make these on a hot summer day. 20-40 minutes was ideal. After they were dry enough, into the oven they went, 250F for about 14 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

I startled R a bit and made her look at me askance when I pulled them out and gleefully said "they have feet!". Macarons should have a sort of ruffle at the bottom, called a foot, a crispy shell, and no large air pockets; the list of attributes of properly-made macarons reads like something out the of AKA breed standard book. Mine seemed to have feet and the crispy shell.  Some of them collapsed a bit, though, and most had too much air in them, a sign I hadn't beaten/deflated them correctly. Removing them from the parchment paper was a bit of an adventure, as they tended to stick a bit. Some time in the freezer (a trick from the class that I remembered) did help that, though.

The filling was an Italian meringue buttercream. Yes, there are different types of meringue. I really had no idea. French meringue is egg whites beaten plus sugar, then more beating. Italian is egg whites beaten plus a hot syrup, then beaten until it's cooled. 


ta-dah! 
Softened butter added to the egg white/syrup mixture made for a buttercream that was better than any buttercream I have ever made. Light and sweetly flavoured, it looked great until the whole thing started looking like cottage cheese. 

I broke it. Breaking, in cooking, is when something leads to an emulsion separating. It's a bit of science reduced to a simple word. It can happen in sauces as well and usually leads to me yelling "aaah!" followed by some sort of rescue attempt, some more successful than others. The yelling may not be proper cooking technique, but I use it anyway. After a few google searches, I was able to rescue it and get it to a nice piping consistency to fill my cookies.

Result and reviews: Cookies need work on the consistency and texture front, but tasted amazing. They are delicate little bites, almondy and sweet but light and airy.Wow, wow, wow. I can see why they're so popular. The main reviewer comment was a request for more. Some technique to refine, but I'm happy with this start.




30 days, day 7

Today's task finished the line of questioning to define and refine my goal: WHO? (making me wonder what's next, as we've worked our way through all the questions). Who will keep me accountable, push me when I need it, and celebrate with me?

D. Unquestionably, unequivocally, him. The man who suggested buying property because it was a long-ago dream of mine, who raised the subject again when I was in the throes of losing my dear kindred spirit, and whose job financed the move to this place where I have healed, grown, struggled, and dreamed for these past almost-ten years.

teamwork.
The girls are, to a lesser extent. They are wonderful at helping here, but also have their own busyness with school and friends. There are loads of things that simply couldn't have happened here without them (including being the inspiration for starting to raise our own food, when I wanted to be giving them the very best I could), and they each bring joy to my days in their own way.

He listens to me ramble on about bees and pigs and sweet potatoes, sometimes asking critical questions to help me clarify, sometimes looking frankly bemused at my ideas. He knows when to draw the line so that we can be practical. He's the engineer who makes my air-sketched projects become physical reality. Even more, he's the one I can count on. He gets frustrated here, like I do. He's realistic. He knows what goes into planning and organization, and so is good at keeping me on track and reminding me of the big picture. He encourages my gourmet adventures and very happily eats the results. So from ground to plate, he's in on the process.

That's my who.

Monday, 6 January 2014

30 days, day 5 & 6

a.k.a, the weekend hit so I'm amalgamating posts.

Back to the focus question-type goals, with day 5 being identifying the WHEN and today the WHERE. These are a little nebulous for me. Since the goal requires research, it's something I can do just about any time. As to where, it's sort of the same.

That said, I can pinpoint times and places where my work will be most efficient. My mind likes to go happily skipping away sometimes, especially when faced with reading dry and/or confusing material. So, I will make sure to focus time each morning when I'm most mentally sharp to read up on the dreary, dry, regulatory things. The parts that interest me (side note: bees are, simply, fascinating. The more I'm reading about them, the more amazed I am.) become my evening reading, in the after-supper lull. After lunch? Forget it. The physical work is fine then, not so much the mental.

Where? Come spring, it will all be outside, gloriously outside.  The coop, the field, the garden, the land. This image is, to me, especially appealing on a day following a night of freezing rain and with the temperature plummeting downward to a flash freeze. 

Where for now? The research part will be in two main places: the computer upstairs, and the kitchen table. The table's a must when I'm studying from books. I am a sprawler. Always have been. That person in the university library who took up the whole table as if there was a study group, but it was just one person? That was me (sorry).

And by way of follow-up, yesterday's class at Le Cordon Bleu was amazing. I do love going there to learn. Two hours flew by watching the chef make macarons and fillings, asking questions, and getting to try the divine concoctions. I've got a first practice batch on the go right now. It's likely going to be messed up as the technique was one I found challenging - but the batter tasted good! 

I'm learning through these classes to focus differently on what I'm making, learning to identify things by texture, sound and sight rather than just by timing. And the privilege of being able to see both ends of the food production scale is gratifying, too. I can see potatoes and chard grow out of the soil I turned, raised the chickens from chicks, then make a galette and a gratin to go with the coq au vin. It's nice.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

30 days, day 4

I spent two hours last night reading about bees. Research! Biology, how the colony works, why hives are designed the way they are and the important parts of a hive, etc. I found it fascinating. They're incredible.

But on to day 4. Hello, Saturday! Today's goal was a little different: "Today, figure out a way to add some fun to whatever it is you’re working on for the next 30 days. It doesn’t have to be amazing or dramatic, even something small can make a big difference."

And, turns out I'd already scheduled something like that. Yay for happy coincidences! The farm goals lead to the production of food, first in its raw state right from the ground or the animal. But I love to take it farther and do amazing things with it. If you've looked through this blog, you'll know I've been dabbling over the last few years into different types and techniques of cuisine, especially French. 

Our ducks become prosciutto, confit, cassoulet. The chicken is ballotined. Eggs become souffl├ęs. I've gotten the hang of curing pork belly to make my own pancetta/bacon. I find these silly kitchen adventures fun as well as delicious.

How will I do that today? My lovely parents gave me a gift certificate for Christmas to a local cooking school, which happens to be one of Le Cordon Bleu's international campuses. Today I'd already booked a demo on macarons, delightful French cookies that have a reputation for being fussy to make. So today, I get to attend a gourmet class and think about the end result of my digging in the dirt and caring for chickens.

Who knows, maybe I'll find a way to sell fancy cookies from the farm, too :) 


Friday, 3 January 2014

30 days, day 3

The house is quiet this morning after a not-so-quiet sleepover last night as the girls and their best friend enjoy the last few days of Christmas vacation.

Day 3's goal wasn't unexpected - after 'what' and 'why', I figured 'how' might be coming along soon. One nice thing about being intentional on the what and why has been that I've already started sorting through the how a bit. 

Continuing with yesterday's analogy (because I like analogies and all that), if WHAT is the compass point and WHY the engine, HOW, with its breakdown of the larger goal into smaller steps, is the GPS telling me to "turn left here" (thereafter saying 'recalculating...' in that condescending voice as I miss the turn because I was distracted. Which is when I start talking back to it, likely to the confusion/amusement of people who see me talking to myself).

Day 3: In January I will accomplish my WHAT (shortlist farm plans for 2014) for the WHY (to maximize its potential and not waste resources). HOW?
  1. research each of the brainstormed options as to: location on the farm, impact on what we're already doing, sourcing of materials/livestock, and practicality of our effort and the inherent learning curve.
  2. research government regulations as to potential sales and how they might work.
  3. research costs involved and look for any cash breaks or incentives/grants.
homework.
Yesterday's research got me laughing as I looked up hemp as a crop. Hemp (Cannabis s. - yes, that cannabis) has been grown for millennia for use of its fibers in rope, but was outlawed in Canada in the 1930s due to the other properties gained through smoking some varietals. It's been re-allowed under close supervision - including background checks for criminal records, and only using seed of varietals that don't have the medicinal/recreational ingredient in them. 

The idea of it amused me, but it's also apparently a great crop to grow organically for fiber and for the seed, which is a nutritional powerhouse. It was looking promising until I read that seed is only sold for plots of 10ac or more. We're not up to that yet. Oh well.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

30 days, day 2

"A WHAT goal is great. It’s a fun start, but it’s not enough. We need a WHY goal too.

What’s a WHY goal? It’s the heart of the reason you actually want to accomplish that goal."

It felt good yesterday to sit at the table and brainstorm. We won't get to a lot of the things we dreamed about, but with no destination we have no direction. The WHAT gives us the compass point, the WHY is the engine.

So. WHY should we sift through things and ideas, research annoying regulations and back-to-basics how-tos? My WHY is, because if we have no shortlist then we drift. This place is so big, had been let go so far, that there is literally no end of stuff to do. It is not static. Things grow, need tending and husbandry; fences get more decrepit; weeds and regrowth reclaim. If we don't focus our time, energy, and resources, then we are not going to accomplish nearly as much.

The larger goals for our farm - removing dependency on factory-produced food and giving others the opportunity to do the same; giving ourselves and our children a great place to live; reconnecting with creation - need those smaller goals to happen.

Day 2: Why? I want to do this so that the farm can approach its full potential and we aren't wasting our limited resources (time, energy, and money).

We want to make the farm live again, to be productive. This while D has a full-time job, I homeschool M in grade 8, and A&R are at high school every day. This will take focus. I don't want to reach May realizing I should have put in a permit for something or figured something out in March, thus nixing that project.

Today, continuing in the little steps: get a google map of our property into line form so that my funny-looking scribblings of "beehives could go here, pigs could live here" are actually made more legible and we get an overall picture of how things could shape up. And keep that WHY in front of my mind.

(Secondary goal-that-really-feeds-the-primary-goal: Spartan Sprint at the end of June, and a shoulder injury's had me laying low. Physio is this afternoon but I want to be fit for (a) farm work and (b) the race.)


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

30 days

I'm an introvert who is blessed beyond measure yet still manage sometimes to struggle with both the intensity of anxiety and the quiet fog of apathy. Weird extremes. I love to create, but dislike self-promotion (which makes being a success in music a bit tricky). But talk to me about something I love, and you're doomed to listen to me ramble about it. Things that stress me out, I tend to internalize. I recharge in solitude and am happy to sit and involve my mind in the way the dew on a spiderweb catches the sun's early rays, or watch the consistency of the sauce I'm making thicken into yummy smoothness. Problem is, those things will distract me from getting much-needed things done.

But then I signed up for '30 Days of Hustle' by Jon Acuff, a writer who's made me laugh AND think deeply over the years. The project: spend the next 30 days working toward a goal. So that's what I'm doing. Today's goal was to define the WHAT of the goal. So here goes.

Day 1: in the next 30 days, we will shortlist the plans for our farm this year.

With many options and only so much time and money, the short list needs to be workable. It requires research into cost, benefits, impact on our current farming, permits, and all that stuff. This will be the challenge for me. 

I enjoy learning about the how of farming. What's the best housing for bees? Where should the hive go, and what precautions should we make? Can that old set of discs in the barn be retrofitted for out current tractor, since the hitches are different? What's the best housing for turkeys? The best alignment for a greenhouse? I'm finding that I love low-tech solutions and learning the old wisdom of farmers.

Where I bog down, zone out, and run away looking for something pretty and shiny, is in the legislated side of things. We are producing food, first for our family, but with the goal of producing extra to sell. And once you're selling food products, you enter the area of government regulations. Reading these makes me dizzy. Remember how the adults always talked in the Charlie Brown TV specials? That's how my mind reads legalese.

So: next 30 days? Research enough to make that shortlist. Not every item on the list will happen. My dream for a small orchard will likely be stymied by the house needing work on the roof this year. That costs money, and so do apple trees. But the list will be there on paper, research and groundwork done, so that before the ground thaws and we start to do something, we've already got our feet pointed in the right direction.