Monday, September 30, 2013

Official launch of Raising Goats Naturally

Tomorrow we'll officially launch my latest book, Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More. I'll be blogging at my publisher's website, so feel free to pop in and say "Hi!" I'll also be visiting other blogs over the next couple of months.

We have some fun things planned for you right here on Thrifty Homesteader, and you'll have the opportunity to hear from other voices too. Starting this Friday is a four-part guest blog by Elyse Nicholson about training your goats to drive or pull carts. Every Monday through the end of this year, we'll provide you with some fun goat facts. And in between, we'll post excerpts from the book, as well as posts from others who love goats and goat products.

For those of you without goats, don't worry! There will also be the usual posts about homesteading, sustainability, and other critters, as well as book reviews and The London Dispatches.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The London Dispatches: Daylesford Farm Shop

By Cadence Woodland

Hello Thrifty Homesteader readers! I'm Cadence, a freelance author's assistant who occasionally helps Deborah with some of her projects. I just relocated to Merrie Olde England and Deborah has asked me to pen a few posts about some of my adventures in the farm and food culture of London.

Britain is such a small country (roughly the size of Idaho), and yet it produces a great variety and quantity of food. In the 1980s it was reported that Britain produced nearly 80% of its food. Though that number has been dropping since then, the same article stated that the number was still nearly 60% in 2010. Britain also still has a vibrantly supported farm system, which means that it's very easy to find not just fresh produce but also meat, dairy products, and even game almost anywhere in the country. Just as you're never more than 75 miles from the sea, I'd guess you're never more than 15 miles from some kind of significant food producing venue. Many of them historic, traditional, or just heritage minded.

Even in the city, we aren't too far away from the farm! Last Saturday I went to Portobello Road to browse through the famous antiques selections and stumbled across a surprising sight!

 Chickens in the city!

I had found the Notting Hill based shop of Daylesford Organic Farm, a rather famous farm in Gloucestershire. I was so surprised to find live hens clucking on the pavement that I went straight in to look around and ask questions (I admit there's little I love more than exploring!) and here's some of what I found out:

Daylesford Farm itself is an award winning venue, somewhat renowned for its commitment to sustainable farming and for its openness to the public. It holds several events a year, from harvest festivals to scheduled cooking classes, and welcomes visitors who want to view (or occasionally participate in) the day to day running of the farm.

Daylesford's city shop is impressive! It's stocked daily with seasonal produce, dairy products from the farm's creamery, meat that has been raised on site, even organic pre-made soups and salads. The day I happened upon those chickens also coincided with the launch of the farm's latest cookbook and their Autumn Farm Fair and food tasting event. You can bet I took advantage!

One of the first things to meet my eye was a huge pallet of fresh eggs shipped from Gloucestershire. The meat was housed in a proper butcher stall where you can buy any cut you'd like. They had one of the farm bakers on hand giving presentations about the different kinds of loaves baked on the premises, what made them unique, and a bit of history about each as well. There was a cheesemonger as well doing the same with the vast dairy offerings. I was really impressed at how much I found to be educational.

There were even some surprises! It's not uncommon to find a much wider variety of meat in British stores than American, but the farm shops and markets really spoil you for choice. The farm shop also included an organic cafe where patrons can order meals crafted directly from the farm's givings.

The Daylesford shop is far from unique in London. Many farms or creameries have kiosks or stalls where they sell their wares at any of the city's famous markets, and not a few have their own stores like this one. In a lot of ways, farm and artisan shops are able to use a lot of modern business practices, such as the idea of developing and growing a brand and utilizing social media, while allowing producers a great deal of control over how they grow and market their wares. And instead of going through several middlemen, it is possible for even smaller producers to craft and sell food goods directly to consumers. All of this while passing on not just artisan knowledge of food production, but a certain involvement on the part of the consumer on where their food comes from. I'm not an expert, but it seems a much more symbiotic system than much of what I've seen of food production and sale in the US.

I really enjoyed the farm shop, and I'm already planning on visiting the farm itself at some point next year, hopefully during one of its harvest parties or summer events, to see it for myself. And if you're ever in Britain and want to try something a little different from the normal tourist traps (which I highly recommend), they welcome visitors!

I've attended my share of farmers markets, but I haven't found many farm shops in the US so I'm curious as to what experience readers of The Thrifty Homesteader may have had with them. Are they common in your area or virtually unheard of?

I'm really looking forward to sharing what I find about the surprising food and farm culture of London. In my next post I'm going to take you on a bit of a tour of some of London's most famous markets, and I hope to be able to check out some of the urban farms (of which there are a surprising number). If you have any questions you'd like me to investigate, rumors you need debunked, or even just questions about food in Britain you'd like me to cover, please share them in the comments!

Cadence Woodland is a freelance author's assistant and writer. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review and give-away: CLR cleaning products

Years ago when we moved into a new house, there was a bottle of CLR left behind by the previous owner. At the time, I thought that it must be horribly toxic if it actually cleaned calcium, lime, and rust, as the label promised. Imagine my surprise a few months ago when I was on the Environmental Working Group's website where they rate various cleaning products based upon the health and environmental impact.

The original CLR gets a grade of A, which is extremely rare on EWG's site, and the CLR Kitchen and Bath Cleaner gets a grade of B, which is still pretty good and not that common in the world of commercial cleaners. Only 7 of the 217 bathroom cleaners rated have an A, and only 22 received a B. Both products are also biodegradeable, which is important to me because we have a septic field where all of our waste water goes. It's one reason I use things like vinegar and baking soda for most of my cleaning.

Like many people who live in the country, we have a well, and in spite of spending big bucks on a water filtration system and a water softener, our water is still high in mineral content and creates a cleaning headache in the bathroom. CLR really does get everything clean, even after a couple of weeks of neglect.

You might wonder why The Thrifty Homesteader, who loves vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, is telling you about this product. Well, I've always said that vinegar and baking soda will clean most things, and that's true, but if you happen to have something that is more challenging to clean, I would prefer you choose a safer commercial product that works. Considering the fact that 56.7% of bathroom cleaning products get a grade of F, and another 19.4% get a grade of D from the EWG, you have a 3 in 4 chance of using something really toxic if you buy a product to clean your bathroom.

So, when the makers of CLR asked me to review their product and give away a couple of bottles on my blog, I agreed. If you have a cleaning problem that needs something tougher than baking soda or vinegar, you can enter to win a bottle of each of these products. (Sorry but only those with US addresses are eligible.) There are a variety of ways for you to enter. Details are below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's chick time!

Chick time? You mean, the time to get chicks? 

Yep! Although most people get new chicks in the spring, I prefer getting my future layers in September or early October. Why?

Most breeds of chickens don't start laying until five or six months of age. If you get chicks hatched in spring, they start laying a few small eggs just as the days start getting shorter. Although they might continue to lay a few eggs through the winter, the number of eggs you will get the first year is a lot less than if you had pullets that were hatched in fall. When chicks are hatched in fall, they will reach laying age in the spring as the days are getting longer and older chickens naturally start laying again after their winter holiday.

In Illinois, we really can't have chicks shipped to us any earlier than March unless we are prepared to deal with a fairly high mortality rate because it is simply too cold for their survival to be ensured.  In March and April, the weather for shipping is questionable, especially since chicks usually have to be ordered far enough ahead of time that you won't know what the weather will be like when they are shipped. So, I prefer fall chicks because it's warm when the chicks are shipped, which means we usually have zero losses in shipping.

Caring for chicks is also easier in September. We can simply hang a heat lamp in the barn stall, and the chicks will happily wander all over the stall. In spring, we have to use our big brooder to trap the heat for the chicks. The chicks grow feathers in the fall as the days grow colder.

So, if you think that you have to wait until spring to get started with your backyard flock, you might be able to get them sooner, depending upon where you live.

This post was shared at Clever Chick's Blog Hop.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Michael Pollan's Cooked

Reading Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, I kept thinking, I can see why his books are so popular. He tells you everything you ever wanted to know about food -- and lots of things you didn't know you needed to know. He asks questions that I never thought to ask seriously.

I have often wondered how red wheat could have become the standard "whole wheat" that is sold in the store when so few people like it. Yet almost everyone loves white wheat. If you're a fan of Triscuits and wonder how they make "100% whole wheat" taste so good, it's because they use soft white wheat, not the strong-tasting hard red wheat that is commonly sold today. I should have known that the popularity of red wheat had nothing to do with taste and everything to do with the industrial food machine. As white bread became more popular, millers wanted to buy a type of wheat that would work best for separating the wheat and bran -- and farmers complied by growing hard red wheat almost exclusively. Pollan explains:
The wheat plant changed, too. The new roller mills worked best with hard-kerneled red wheat; the big tough bran coat on this type of wheat could be sheared cleanly and completely from the endosperm, whereas softer white wheat left infinitesimal specks of bran in the flour. So, over time, breeding changed the plant to better suit the new machine. But because hard wheat has tougher, bitterer bran, it made whole-grain flour even coarser and bitterer than it had been before -- one of several ways that the triumph of white flour made whole wheat less good.

And so goes the whole book.  Every few pages, I'd exclaim, "Wow!" or "Oh, that's why that happened!" The book is divided into four parts, each of which represents a way to cook -- with fire, water, air, and earth. Pollan logically starts the book with a section on cooking over fire because that's how humans started cooking. He visits barbecue pit masters to learn the history of barbecue and realizes how he has been misusing the word "barbecue" when he was actually grilling. True barbecuing involved cooking over wood coals for many hours to bring out the natural delicious taste of the meat. Some of the pit masters that Pollan interviews use the word "sauce" as if it were a four-letter word. Good barbecue, they argue, should not have to rely on sauce to taste good.

The second section is on cooking with water, which is when cooking became more civilized, moving indoors, using pots, and more often than not, being done by women. Pollan received lessons from a chef and shares what he learns about how to cook great meals on the stove. Samin Nosrat the chef confirmed what I have always thought must be true -- there is no such thing as a bad cut of meat, simply bad ways to cook it. Throughout this section, I picked up a lot of tips on how to cook some of those less desirable cuts of meat, and again I learned a lot about the history behind what we're doing in the kitchen. One tip -- heavily salting a cut of meat 24 hours before cooking will make it more tender. If you can't salt it 24 hours ahead of time, it's usually better to just not salt it before cooking.

The third section -- air -- is about baking bread. Although I used to make sourdough bread some 20 years ago, I have been using yeast now, while continually telling myself that I'd get back to sourdough someday. Well, Pollan's book made someday, today. I now have a sourdough culture growing in my kitchen again for the first time in two decades. This is the section where we learn all about the history of wheat and wheat farming and industrialization of wheat and how it went from being part of a healthy diet to being a big part of an unhealthy diet.

The final section is on fermentation, and Pollan covers fermented vegetables, cheese, and beer. Being a cheese maker myself, I loved reading about the time that Pollan spent with Sister Noella, the Cheese Nun, who also happens to be a microbiologist. Raw milk fans will love hearing about Sister Noella's experiment with her raw cheese.

I was happy to learn in the afterword that Pollan continued baking bread and cooking from scratch when he was finished researching the book. I got the feeling that he was only learning these things for the purpose of writing the book, but ultimately he decided that some cooking activities were actually fun and easier to do that he had expected. I have long argued that most people who say they don't have time to cook don't actually know how to cook. Dinner does not have to be a Top Chef production, and there are many benefits of home cooking far beyond the nutritional.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hot off the press: Raising Goats Naturally

My latest book arrived yesterday! And I'm celebrating by offering autographed copies for only $20 with free shipping. Click here to order yours. Or you can wait another two or three weeks and buy it from your favorite bookseller.

Raising Goats Naturally: A Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More is now making its way to a distributor, bookstore, or library near you. For those of you who prefer ebooks, it will also be available in most digital formats. You can pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The official pub date is October 8, but we'll start the party on the blog on October 1. To celebrate over the next couple months, I'll be posting about all things goat!

We'll be talking about goat care, goat training, goat cheese, goat meat, and more, so that even if you don't have goats, there will still be some interesting posts for you.

Next weekend I'll be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, so if you're there, be sure to say hi!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Recipe: Cheddar-garlic biscuits

Cheddar biscuits have become popular enough that there are now mixes in the grocery store, but you can make them from scratch, saving money and avoiding artificial ingredients while making a more delicious biscuit! I've been using this particular recipe for about 20 years.

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2/3 cup buttermilk

I prefer to use white whole wheat in this recipe, but you can use unbleached or red whole wheat, if you prefer. The advantage of white whole wheat is that is is high in fiber, but it does not have the heavy nutty taste of red whole wheat, allowing the taste of the cheese and garlic to shine. (Red whole wheat is typically sold as simply "whole wheat," but you can check the ingredient list on your flour to be sure.) Mix flour, salt, baking soda, and garlic powder in a medium bowl and then cut in the butter using a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture looks like coarse corn meal. Add the cheddar cheese and stir. Add the buttermilk and mix until it hurts. Feel free to dig in with your hands whenever stirring gets to be too difficult or when your wooden spoon breaks. Once the dough is a solid mass, fold over several times. The folding is what makes flaky biscuits because you're creating layers of dough.

Roll out the dough into a one-inch thick circle on your baking pan. I prefer stone or cast iron for baking because it creates a perfectly browned bottom crust. Use your longest knife or a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 16 biscuits by cutting down the middle then halfway between the first cut and the edge of the dough on each side. Turn the circle of dough 90 degrees and cut down the middle and then again on each half. Separate the biscuits so there is about an inch between them and they'll have room to rise and spread out a little.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Although these are delicious right out of the oven (after a few minutes of cooling so you don't burn yourself), they are also very tasty when cooled, unlike most biscuits. I especially like leftover biscuits with hearty cream soups or beef stew for lunch or dinner.

This post shared on the Sunday Social blog hop
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