Auld lang syne

Times gone by…

It sure has been a while since I have added to this blog. I truly blame my oldest son who, years ago, urged me to join Facebook. Sadly, I guess, Facebook “became” my blogging outlet, leaving a huge gap of time here on WordPress. Be that as it may, I felt it would be fitting to add a closing entry to this Connecticut chapter of Morning Star Meadows’ existence.

Our life here for the past 20 plus years in Connecticut has been amazing! We arrived in 1996 with 2 children, a boy and a girl, living on less than an acre in an upscale development. We totally fit the mold for the American New England family!

However we soon began to diverge from the norm when we surpassed 3 children, and move with the 4th to nearly 3 acres. It was a bit more elbow room – a garden was started, and a wood stove added – but we were still missing something – still not countercultural enough! And for goodness sake – a dog and a cat just weren’t enough for us!

Roy continually told the kids, “If I win the lottery, we’ll buy a farm!” The lottery was never won, but the itch to farm and have sheep was desperately in need of scratching. A minimum of 3 acres was needed to have livestock in that town, and no one would sell us adjacent land. We started looking as numbers 5, 6 and 7 (the twins) and 8 arrived. If nothing else, we were running out of bedrooms!

This beautiful property was on our radar screen, but the price was originally too high. Miraculously, though, it eventually dropped into (the top of) our price range one day. We drove out to see it and fell in love with North Stonington and our beautiful street, Wyassup Rd. A lake within walking distance! A huge state forest in the back yard! And over 15 acres! When we first viewed the home, we truly believed it had been built for us.

Negotiations went on for a while, and we finally were able to sell our home and buy this glorious place! The hard work of clearing the land began. And finally, our first livestock arrived!

I absolutely LOVE looking back at photos of our earliest years of farming. I just can’t believe how young the kids were (the children, not the goats!) At the time we had no idea what this would all turn into, but we dreamed, and we dreamed big!

Fences went up – small barns were built – chickens arrived – and then it was time to build THE barn! While our old neighbors in the upper market development where we first lived were putting in in-ground pools for their 2 kids, we were spending the money building a genuine post and beam barn that we figured would outlive all 10 of us!

You know the rest of the story – we built up a wonderful hobby farm here in North Stonington, raising our own food, providing our own fuel for heat, and raising sheep for wool. Our idea of making this a business turned into just enjoying what we had and learning from it, not intending to earn a livelihood in the process – but instead invaluable life lessons were learned by us all – way more valuable than dollars and cents.

I wouldn’t trade a minute of our life here these past 8 plus years for any other family’s situation. We have truly been blessed.

However these past few years here have also shown me clearly that nothing stays the same. For instance my fairly regular blogging here really took a nose dive when my father became very ill. As an only child, as well as being a mother, wife, and hobby farmer, writing took a back seat. I was traveling quite a bit to and from my hometown in Pennsylvania to be with my parents. Our farming, and especially our shepherding, also had to be scaled back. I knew that lambing season would be too much for us with me doing all of this traveling (I was getting to know the Amtrak conductors and Red Caps way too well!) Slowly our flock was dispersing to new and wonderful homes.

After my father’s passing, and autumn was approaching, I was getting excited about breeding the sheep again, but Roy reminded me that things in his corporate world also were changing. Remember what I said – nothing stays the same. After 20 years in the company, dodging many bullets with restructuring, Roy felt that his job was more at risk than ever. More uncertainty – more reason to curtail our farming. We began to focus on the gardens, and I had more time to spin some yarn. We watched and waited.

In our free time we started to pull back on projects and dreams of our future here at our farm in Connecticut, realizing full well that our hopes of staying here into our golden years may not come to fruition. We now had an eagerness to head to Pennsylvania. Our oldest daughters were going there in the fall for nursing school, and we wanted to be close to my mother and them. We turned our efforts into erasing the wear and tear done by 8 years of farm living by a family of 10 in this beautiful farmhouse. After so many years of working hard to make this place “ours,” we found ourselves working hard to make it someone else’s. Nothing stays the same.

And so we come to 2017. Roy’s job has been eliminated in a global restructuring of the company, and he has decided to take this opportunity to move on with our family to the next chapter of our life.

In a little over a week, Morning Star Meadows will be for sale. I write that with some sadness, but a sadness that is filled with much hope for the future of our family. We will need a lot of prayer and trust in God to get us through this time, but I know full well that He has a plan for us (just wish He’d let me in on some of the details!) Ultimately our home will sell and we will settle somewhere wonderful in southwestern Pennsylvania. Mom may have a house full of lively Kerlins for a time until God finds our new farm (or she kicks us out!), but we trust that He will come through for us if we turn all to His glory!
Nothing stays the same…but the best is yet to come!

A new kitchen toy review

You would think that after cooking for all of these years I would know about most of the kitchen gadgets that are out there by now.  I’ve found that over the years you just have certain “go to” items in the kitchen, and many of those gadgets you bought on an impulse and thought you couldn’t live without end up pushed to the back of the drawer or cabinet and were only a passing fad.

So I hope, then, that my latest discovery becomes a good friend in the kitchen.  With over 200 heads of garlic curing in our basement, I know that I will need a quick and easy way to use garlic this year.imageWith garlic I sometimes just find it a bother to peel and prep it for a recipe when I’m in a hurry.  But, as an Italian, fresh garlic is a staple, and “garlic in a jar” or “garlic powder” or “garlic salt” just have no business being in my recipes!

Enter…my new garlic toy.  I discovered a version of this gadget at our neighbors’ home when we were there for dinner.  Not only does it slice the garlic in thin wafers for recipes, but it also stores the unused cloves for the future.  Awesome!imageYou just take the top off, drop the garlic in, replace the top and start twisting it.  The shaved garlic comes out the bottom:imageAnd drops right into your recipe.imageA plastic cap covers the bottom when not in use and the whole thing can go into the fridge until next time!  I got this item on Amazon – I like the brand I ended up with -seems durable and the blades are sharp.imageAnd one of our first uses was to add more garlic to those pickles from the last post!

Pickle Update:  They are awesome, and were ready to eat in less than 2 weeks!  I’ve since taken a jar of them out of the crock and put them in the fridge for convenience (and chilled pickles taste better.)  They are flavorful and crunchy!  And we’ve continued to add more cukes to the crock!  So convenient!

Pickles!

Today we hit the jackpot with our first big cucumber picking!  Beautiful, fresh cucumbers all over the place!  What to do?!

After a lunch of long awaited cucumber, dill, and cream cheese sandwiches, I got to work with processing the rest of the cucumbers while they were still as fresh as can be!

Ever since attending a fermentation class last fall and purchasing our fermenting crock, I’ve been waiting to make lacto-fermented pickles!  We learned in our class that some farmers used to just keep the crock in the shade of the barn and keep adding clean, fresh vegetables to it all season long!

This was so much easier to do than pickling and canning, and the health benefits of lacto-fermented vegetables speak for themselves, so there was nothing to lose!

Since our cucumbers were a little large to ferment whole, we first, after washing, cut them into long spears.

I just dropped them into the clean, empty crock:

IMG_2854Then it was time to add the garlic and pickling spices…I threw in several whole cloves of our fresh garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper.  Already smelling good!

IMG_2856Next I added several springs of freshly picked dill and a few dill flowers:IMG_2859 IMG_2861I made a brine with clean well water, sea salt, and some whey that we keep from our homemade yogurt:IMG_2858That was poured over the cucumbers and spices – enough to cover everything when it was pressed down later by the weights.IMG_2863Old timers used to swear by using some grape leaves or horseradish leaves on top to help with crispness of the pickles.  Apparently it should be a leaf with plenty of tannins, and even oak leaves were suggested.  One of the recipes I looked at said, “But who would have grape leaves laying around?”  Well, after initially thinking, “yeah, right!” I realized that we have Concord grapes growing all over the place here this time of year, as did said “old timers” who were the first fermenters in this area!  Moments later…gorgeous, big grape leaves!IMG_2862On top of the mix the went:IMG_2864followed by the weights, pressing down firmly to be sure the brine covers all of the cucumbers:IMG_2865And now we wait patiently for the bacteria to do their thing!  We hope to have a taste testing in a week or so!

Dog days of summer…

These “dog days” are certainly not the best for Icelandic sheep — especially if you’re the black sheep of the family!  Luckily we’ve taught our ram Boomer to enjoy a good cooling down with well water – and occasionally he’ll even have a drink right from the hose.  We’ve always likened Boomer to a crazy Golden Retriever because he comes when he’s called and will chase you up and down a fence line, enjoying every moment of it like a faithful mutt – but when it comes to “dog days” – he’s every bit a sheep…

New kids on the block!

Kits and a kitten!  THIS doesn’t happen every day around here!  Our two does had 7 kits each – and if that wasn’t enough, our youngest daughter scored a new kitten for an early birthday present!  With the right background music, this video could go viral, I think!  Cuteness abounds this evening!

He hath set me in a place of pasture…

IMG_3414Today we christened a new pasture at Morning Star Meadows Farm, reclaiming old pasture land from days gone by…

Slowly we have been clearing and restoring pastures from at least the early 1900’s.  We’ve harvested some trees for lumber, opening up the canopy to allow sunlight to reach the pasture grasses and strengthen the trees we’ve allowed to remain that will provide ample shade on the dog days of summer.  We removed toxic chokecherry trees and scoured the area for any other toxic plants or other hazards to sheep, leaving them plenty of browse to munch on.

IMG_3417They really didn’t know where to begin when they got out there!  Firstly, the only other time they had been down here was for brief periods with portable electric fencing which constrained them to a much smaller area.  So they immediately headed to unexplored areas, looking for new delicacies.

Roy has been working hard with the boys beating back the multiflora rose and briar bushes, trying to plant orchard grass, which has flourished in this rich soil.

But where do the ewes find their first sweet snack?

photo 2Amongst the lower branches of a maple tree!

photo 1

Roxanne says, “What are you looking at?  Haven’t you ever seen sheep browse like goats?”

Most shepherds would say no to this, but this is one of the things we love most about Icelandics!  They will often choose browsing on broadleaf plants, shrubs and trees over eating grass, much like goats.  That is why we had to be so fastidious about leaving anything toxic for them in this tamed forest.

photo 4You can even see Shirley above here on the right reaching for another low branch!

IMG_3425But sheep being sheep, it didn’t take long for one of them to move on – and the rest, follow.  Maybe Matilda knows that there’s something even BETTER than tender young maple leaves somewhere, after all!

So they started making the rounds.  You can see Roy and the boys above, admiring the pay off to all of the work they’ve done to make this wooded pasture a reality.  There is nothing quite so satisfying as seeing sheep on new pasture, especially a lovely shaded area that will provide much needed respite from the late summer heat in a month or so.

The above picture also shows you the location of this pasture in relationship to the house.  You can see the second story of our home at the top of the picture, and it really gives you the impression that it’s not that far from the house, but because the house sits on a hill far above this area, the actual walk down from the house to this gate shown is a good150 yards.   It’s just foreshortened by the elevation rise.

IMG_3427And as the sheep walk a bit to the right of the gate, you begin to see in the background the barn on the other side of our property.  Again, about 150 yards from this area.

We’re not 100% finished with the project.  In the next couple of weeks we will put the protective electrified high tensile wire, 2 strands, over the top of the woven wire fence to deter predators.  And because not far from here there was a bear sighting, we are unlikely to leave any of our animals in this pasture unattended overnight.

As it is, I know I will worry about them and be walking down frequently to check on them when they are here in this wooded pasture.  It’s one of the 2 pastures on the farm that aren’t readily visible from the house.  Yep, I’m a helicopter mom when it comes to our flock, and I like to keep my eye on them– but that’s what being a dutiful shepherdess is all about!  It’s why all of the biblical references to shepherding mean so very much more to me now as a shepherdess “leading the ewes with care.”

Reaping what we sow…

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is so good to eat fresh, healthful produce from our own garden once again!

Every day is a new culinary adventure, as we harvest and try new recipes…

Baby kale…baked kale chips are the family favorite, hands down…IMG_3129

A new crop for us this year…pak choy… What a versatile green!  We’ve stir fried it with mushrooms, scapes, and peas and even added it to a curry!  It adds crunch and a subtle flavor!

 

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And this year, in addition to the awesome salad mix lettuce we plant, we put in a row of mild mesclun greens.  Nice variety and beautiful, crunchy leaves!

imageAnd of course we’re enjoying a plentiful harvest of strawberries – packing some away in the freezer to enjoy midwinter in smoothies…making freezer jam (much fresher and more flavorful than traditional strawberry jam because it doesn’t require cooking the strawberries.)

IMG_3285And as if these weren’t delectable enough simply “just picked” – we had a bit of a splurge for dessert the other night!

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This year we planted more garlic than ever…which at this time of the year means more garlic scapes than ever.  Garlic scapes are the fruiting body of certain types of garlic plants that appear in June and, if not picked, will become seed bearing flowers on long green stalks that curl around.  We normally chop these and use them in place of garlic this time of year, but we had so many that we wanted to make the most of them.  We chopped some and flash froze them to save for winter recipes, but that becomes tedious.

So today we made garlic scape pesto!

imageWe chopped them up into the food processor with a healthy dose of grated parmesan, salt, and of course, olive oil…

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Blend it all up and you get a beautiful sauce that can be frozen or used immediately as a pasta sauce or added to any recipe that could use a bit of garlicky zing!

Are you hungry yet?!!

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