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A Trip to the Museum

If you know me in real life, you’re probably aware that I am pretty nerdy.  So a day trip to a local historical society and museum was just the thing to share with Matt and my mom.  We decided to check out Old Stone House Day at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, VT.

Much of the grounds was given over to a farmer’s market, pie auction and activities for children.  We rapidly found our way to the historical agricultural tools barn, where we looked at an old sheep-powered treatmill for small tasks like churning butter or running other simple devices.  We learned that there were once many more sheep in Orleans County – hard to imagine now, as there are only a few large sheep farms in this area.

Here are some pictures from our day at the museum that I found particularly compelling:

This cutie was my first stop, for obvious reasons.  Not sure if I petted Danny or Mr. Wrinkles, but these two chill guys were taking it easy under a shade tree.  Touching their wool, I am brought straight back to why I abandoned my efforts to raise finewool sheep in Vermont.  They both had damage to the wool on their backs from our humid climate.

 

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This picture speaks for itself regarding changes to the farming economy in Vermont.  Whether you support conventional dairy farming or not, the farming infrastructure that comes with it is vital to the success of all of the small farms in the state.  We lost another 10% of our dairy farms in 2018 due to milk prices again lingering below the cost of production.

For those who care about this particular opinion, Ben & Jerry’s was MUCH better ice cream before Unilever bought them.  It hurts to see the chain of consolidation moving on up.  Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery (dealing in goat’s milk, owned by Land’O’Lakes) are doing the same thing with the cheese market.

Here is the display on wool from the museum.  Under the sign, there was a picture of a UK-style Border Leicester.

 

 

Of note to longtime readers – if you recall two years ago when we were hunting for a home to buy to use as a farm, we almost bought a property in Brownington, only a mile or so from the museum.  We drove by the home we had considered buying, only to find the 1810-era farmhouse torn down and replaced with a modern home and a horse barn for pleasure-horses.  Such a loss, though small in the grand scheme, is nevertheless a blow to valuable agricultural land and to preservation of historic homes.   It was sad to see.

 

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Our BFL Yarn is Here

I am so happy with the BFL yarn that came back from Battenkill Fibers this year.

In past years, our BFL clip has been too small for me to send it to a mill.  Bluefaced Leicesters are bred to have light fleeces.  In the UK, this was done with the idea of reducing the fleecy bulk of Cheviots and Scottish Blackface ewes.  The ewes from these crossbreedings are known as mules, and they are famous for having better wool and more lambs than their mountain dams, but more fleece and ruggedness than their BFL sires.

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We just love our BFL sheep!  Here, Sally gets all of the petting she wants from farmer Matt.

In the US, where BFLs are not used as much for creating mule ewes, the small fiber clip is a bit of an issue for mill processing, which requires minimum amounts.  This year, with 17 adult ewes contributing, we finally have plenty of lovely yarn to sell.

The yarn itself is something else.  I have never had yarn so smooth, shimmery and soft, while not being ropey or hard at all.  I love how it shows off the dye efforts I’ve made.  It’s easy to envision this yarn as a luxury shawl or treasured scarf.  Slouchy hats would also be a great use for it.  I’m not saying that your BFL socks won’t stay up, but I am saying that this yarn deserves to be used doing what it does best, which is draping beautifully without pilling.  I chose colors that I thought would lend life and interest to single-color projects, though the colors complement each other well, too.

Our BFL yarn is fingering weight, 200 yards per skein.  

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Cloverworks Farm Greensboro Bend Yarn

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Riblets

Raise your hand if you like Barbecue.

Alright…

Raise your hand if you like the crispy parts where the sauce and the fat melt into tasty meat.  Is that your favorite bit?  Would you nibble on bones all day?

Congrats, you are my barbecue twin.  Because that’s my favorite bit.  I’m all about texture in food, and the crispy/juicy contrast has to be my favorite.

Cue the Lamb Riblet.

I dry-rubbed some of my lamb riblets with Memphis Dust and cooked them at a low temperature on our Weber kettle grill for 3 hours.  I probably should have stopped at 2.5 hours- they were a little overcooked in spots.  The meat had a rich pink smoke-ring and the fat was well-rendered.  I love that unlike pork, which is kind of a neutral flavor substrate, lamb tastes lamby no matter what.   I paired it with a sour beer that broke up the unctuous fattiness nicely.

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Instructions for cooking riblets vary a great deal depending on your grill or oven setup.  I recommend amazingribs.com for real, tested recipes.  Don’t let the shouty, blinky nature of the site fool you- I promise it is the real thing for food science-based recommendations and techniques for making great barbecue on any kind of grill.

We have 18 more sets of riblets, so get some for your next barbecue at the next Craftsbury Farmer’s Market!

 

 

 

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Summer Arrives

Summer arrives to find the bobolinks have fledged from our neighbor’s hayfield.   Three streaky brown birds making little plink calls were flitting and bouncing around the pasture I set up for the sheep.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide habitat to this struggling species.

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We are so close to weaning time.  I know the ewes are ready to send their lambs off on their own for a while.  Some have probably already weaned their babies without my help.  For others,  it’s adorable yet concerning to see lambs who are nearly the same size as their mothers still nursing.  The ewes need pedicures and a spa treatment (or hoof trimming and some Selenium supplementation, depending on your perspective).

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We have two especially naughty lambs who have figured out how to slip under the electric fence.  They taunt the other lambs by eating the grass I am saving for later meals.  Sadly, one is a ewe lamb that I would have considered keeping, but I don’t really need troublemakers.  Worse, in the process of slipping out, the lambs have occasionally knocked down the fence and allowed other sheep to escape.  We do not want loose sheep in roads and on neighbor’s land.

Our haying efforts have produced 75 round bales so far.  We have several more fields waiting for first-cutting, but Matt is struggling with equipment breaking down.  First, the round baler wasn’t operating smoothly, so he needed to adjust the tension on the belts that roll the hay into a snowball.  Then, one of the bearings on the new mower seized, causing extensive damage to a part that is no longer made.  Good thing Matt is a decent welder.  He’ll need to replace the gnawed-off metal with in-fill, and then use a lathe to make it smooth and round again.  Yeesh.

I have learned how to rake the hay into windrows that the baler then scoops up and rolls.  There is a satisfying rhythm to it, like mowing the lawn.  Would you like to know more about how hay is made?  I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post explaining hay, so let me know if an explainer would be useful for you.

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The Yarn is Here

Most years, I have sent my wool to the mill with the expectation that my yarn might come back just a few weeks before the festivals I regularly attend.  Usually, that was just enough time to count it and dye it while Mom might knit a sample or two.

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This year is different.  Our mill, Battenkill Fiber, has a different reservation system that allows me to place my wool earlier in the queue by making an earlier deposit.  This saves me a lot of stress and hassle in the fall; a time of year when I am busy with lambs and farmer’s markets as well as yarn.

Our yarn came out wonderfully, once again.  The Border Leicester wool we sent in became our Derby Line Sport-Weight yarn.   We also sent our BFL to the mill and got back stunning, drapey, glossy fingering-weight yarn.  It’s all dyed up, but I haven’t gotten it into the online store yet.  Ditto for some hat kits we will be offering- there’s lots to look forward to!

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As you read about in The Reality of Yarn,  getting the yarn off of the cones and into skeins took a lot of time and patience.  Choosing colors and dyeing the yarn relies a bit more on some of my experience.  I took careful note of which colors appealed to people and which ones just sat.  I really like orange, but I’ve eased-up on orange a bit this year in the Derby Line.  I have also made more solid shades and fewer semi-solid.   I did choose to make semi-solids and multicolor yarn with the BFL.  It was BORN to be an art-shawl, cowl or scarf, so having an art yarn is more appropriate.    Overall, I am pleased with the palette I’ve made and eager to see how customers receive it!

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The BFL yarn – freshly dyed and now drying out.

I admit that I am a bit selfish about dyeing the yarn.   Even though it would be a potentially fun group activity, I hoard it for myself.  Dyeing is the one place where I can do a bit of artwork in a profession that is otherwise mostly physical, so I make an afternoon of it with the radio on, a glass of wine, and a drawerful of powerful dyes and my dedicated pots.  I hope that my creative outlet will be your crafting inspiration!

 

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To The Geese, Raising Their Goslings in Our Midst

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Dear Mr. Gander, Mr. Gander and Ms. Goose,

First, my most sincere condolences for the loss of the other Mrs. Goose and one gosling on 5/27 at the hands of Mr. Fox.  We are truly sorry for the loss of your dear sister/wife/mother/son/daughter.

We would like to express our absolute joy at the growth of your brood of seven.   Your parenting would shame even the most anxious Manhattan mom or dad, as your helicoptering and minding ceases neither day nor night.

To the task at hand: As laudable as your efforts are, we are writing to remind you that the landowners, Katie and Matt, do reserve the right to utilize and occupy shared spaces including, but not limited to:  1) the driveway  2) the front yard  3) the entrance to their house  4) the garage and environs.  It has come to their attention that you wish to dispute this ownership, and that you have in fact chased them and several guests in the driveway at numerous times, employing threatening gestures while disturbing the peace. In his affidavit, the UPS man reports “they are not the worst geese on my route but they chase my truck every time.”

Your landlords would like to remind you that you inhabit this farm at their pleasure, and the threatening words and gestures that you employ are unwelcome and could be grounds for termination at a later date.  The terms of your lease are non-negotiable because you are birds and birds cannot sign legal contracts, even upon reaching the age of majority.

Please cease and desist your aggressive behavior, or our actions will escalate.

 

Sincerely,

Katie’s pretend-lawyer, conveniently also named Katie.

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Bringing Home the Bacon

Matt had a hard task ahead of him:  Ten hours of labor taking the front of the tractor off,  replacing a $12 gasket, then ten hours of labor putting the gasket back on.

I thought that the best way to thank Matt for a really grungy, fiddly job would be to finally make a big pork belly from the freezer into bacon.  The belly weighed ten pounds, so I cut it into thirds for easier handling and to adhere to the recipe suggestions.

I tried a recipe from The Spruce, which has generally been a decent source of recipes for me that aren’t to fussy or involved.  I read the bacon recipe over three times and decided it seemed about right.

I rinsed the bacon and applied the pepper/salt/pink salt/sugar mixture.  Dutifully turning the bacon daily helped ensure a complete cure.  After ten days, I was ready to try some bacon.

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This is where things went a bit awry: I washed the first third of the bacon but didn’t soak it.  I smoked it on the grill, sliced off a few bits and tried it.

BLECHCH.  It was far too salty and some of the fat had a weird fishy flavor.  I spent a bit of time troubleshooting, and came to find that I had not rinsed away enough of the original cure.  So I rinsed the rest of that chunk and soon we had much more edible bacon.

The second two chunks were more thoroughly rinsed, and I am happy to report that they were delicious.  The meat is tighter and a little tougher than grocery store bacon.  The smokey flavor tastes stronger and more authentic.  The bacon is overall less “canned” seeming.  It’s less perfectly uniform.  The only downside?  I can’t achieve the thin slices that a machine will do.  Oh well.

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I would certainly make bacon again.

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The Reality of Yarn

Don’t get me wrong.  Playing with yarn gives me great joy.  I love the texture, the sheepy scent, the slight dust of it.  I love the whole sensory experience and I am always happy to have more yarn.

This year, instead of having our yarn made into pre-measured skeins at the mill, we elected to have it delivered on huge cones to be made into skeins at home.  Matt built a skein winder that automatically spins and measures each skein.  Such a winder would normally cost $350-400.  He made ours out of spare parts and some pvc pipe for about $150.

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But please understand that this is Day 12 of winding skeins.  I have rewatched the entirety of Ken Burn’s “The Civil War” (11 hours and 30 minutes, for those counting at home) while winding skeins, and that just covered winding the white BFL and 1/3 of the white Border Leicester.  I watched Ken Burns “The Roosevelts” as well.  I also watched the whole “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series (23 hours 20 minutes!) while making the natural color Border Leicester skeins and white mini-skeins needed for new patterns that will be released soon.

Each skein comes off the line frequently enough to make tasks more complex than television impossible.  Likewise, my hands need to stay clean, precluding anything like cooking or dyeing other yarn.  Watching something informative makes me feel like my brain is engaged with something meaningful.  I know I’m letting my nerd flag fly by admitting to my preference for documentaries and straightforward storytelling.  The current selection of human-failure-intensive prestige dramas don’t appeal: to me, the world has enough genuine sorrow and pain.  I cannot enjoy watching people suffer for entertainment.  I left human services forever in 2010 for a reason.

I am happy to report that I am winding skeins from the final cone of natural-color Border, and I am really, really happy to be so nearly done.  Stay tuned for 2019 yarn!20190521_092711

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Goslings Arrive

We have goslings!

The geese sat patiently on their eggs for most of April.  One goose set herself up beneath some haying equipment, allowing us to leave her generally alone.  Approaching the tarp-covered implement would invariably elicit a hiss.

The second goose laid her eggs in the ram barn, right next to the rams who still needed regular feeding.  So she honked, hissed and snapped at us whenever we fed the rams until they were let outside.

The under-tarp goose hatched her eggs first – seven eggs yielded just 2 goslings.  We think that maybe one or two were taken or that the eggs were predated.   The goslings came out and have been playing in puddles while following their parents around.

Yesterday, Matt came in to say that the second goose’s eggs had begun to hatch.  This morning, he counted six little goslings, one egg still pipping, and three eggs with no apparent activity.

I am eagerly awaiting the new little geese joining the older two, and our entire goose family enjoying the sunshine together.  Hats off to our patient geese, who sat for so long while the ganders cavorted about.

A photographic compendium of Goose Rage:

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Lamb-burgers

cloverworks farm vermont lamb

Matt kept saying “MMMMMMM” when he tried this simple lamburger.  It was hard to focus on my own lamb burger with all of the UMMM in the background.  The richness of the lamb, the creamy tang of the cheese and the tart mineral of the capers blends into a delicious medley.

As an aside – too many food blogs hide the recipe under a semi-relevant novel of personal experiences.  I’m going to share recipes on the top

This burger is incredibly simple:

  • 1/4-1/3 pound of ground lamb per patty
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 oz goat cheese
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of capers, without liquid
  • homemade or purchased bun of your choice (or no bun at all if you are avoiding carbs).  I recommend toasting and buttering the bun.

Naturally, we made this burger from lamb raised here on the farm.  I recommend buying grassfed lamb – 1 pound of ground should feed 3 adults or two adults and two children.   You can always buy pastured lamb from here, of course!

The key to a really succulent burger is salting and peppering the meat before you form the patty.  It takes a little trial and error to find the right amount of salt for you, but once you gain some confidence, your burgers will start to sing.

I prefer grilled burgers to pan-frying.  I like to semi-smoke them slowly over a lower heat.  Medium to medium rare is the rule in this house for optimum juiciness.  I have to credit Matt for helping me to learn to appreciate the texture of a medium rare burger.

I considered melting the goat cheese onto the burger, but found it was actually a nice temperature contrast on warm day to have cool goat cheese.  Plus, I didn’t have to worry about valuable (and pricey!) goat cheese dripping off the burger into the flames.

Assembling the burger is simple – toasted bottom bun, burger, cheese, capers nestled into the cheese, top bun, GO.

Enjoy this perfect weekday-dinner burger and let me know what you think!