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I am Scottish. That should explain all, right? Let’s start with my name: MacLaren Scott. If that didn’t clue you in… well, there may be no hope. Sorry. My husband is Czech and German. Fortunately, my clansmen and women still love and accept him, regardless of this handicap. When he accompanies me to the Highland Games, they make him an honorary member of Clan “McKraut”, as it were. This way he feels… included and not quite so silly wearing a kilt of his wife’s tartan. (Besides, if he didn’t he may never have sex with said wife again.)

Now being an honorary member of Clan McKraut, Hubby also received the honor of tasting my newest batch of sauerkraut…. first. Because after all, he IS a descendent of two kraut making cultures. (I get the first taste from new bottles of scotch, so it all comes out in the wash.) Usually I just bring the sample to him, but this time I asked for his help in photographing the experience. He had never seen the disrobing of a freshly cultured crock of kraut before and therefore did not expect the colorful fur coat and pungent smell of roquefort cheese… and worse. He grimaced as he took pictures for me, rivaling only our 3 yr old for the most expressive face of revulsion west of the Mississippi. But once the mold was peeled away, the inverted plate removed, the top layers scrapped off and the inner sides sponged clean, his interest was beginning to grow.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate...

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate…

...and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the other.

…and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the rim of the other side.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper around the sides.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper near the walls.

“Why are you taking so much off!?” he asked with dismay, demonstrating the way his wife’s scottish thriftiness has rubbed off on him. “Because I don’t want to be responsible for killing myself and my family”, I replied evenly. I don’t really think I would kill anyone, I just want to get as far away from the mold layer as I can without wasting too much of the gold beneath. I have never taken the energy needed to send off samples of the mold to see if it is harmful, I just follow my homesteading mom philosophy of “What would Ma and Pa Ingalls do?” Well, they sure wouldn’t be shipping their kraut molds off to a lab and neither will I. After all, I consume blue cheese and haven’t died yet.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

And this is what you've got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage, carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it.

And this is what you’ve got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it, reminiscent of a NM sunset!

“Ya ready Dear?” I asked with a devilish smile. He nodded and opened his mouth like a good little guinea pig. I scooped a fork full from the side where the mold had seemed the deepest and shoveled it into his pie hole. “Mmmmmmm….” he said. He was still standing. “Dats ‘ooood.” “Does it taste like mold?” I inquired. He swallowed. “Not a bit! But what I don’t understand is how something can taste so good that smelled like a never ending fart for 2 1/2 weeks.”

Well, there you have it. Making kraut in a crock may not make friends during the culturing, but those same friends will be lining up outside your door once it’s jarred. Please see the beginning of this process from 2 1/2 weeks ago here. I would have jarred it after 2 weeks, but the entire family was down with head colds. Fortunately, the kraut is very forgiving. Two to three weeks is the window I shoot for, barring death or dismemberment. If that occurred, I am sure it could wait another week or so while we collect and reattach the missing limbs.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to assist me with the last jar.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to help me fill and pack the last jar.

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 med-small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already had takers for half this haul, guess I'd better start the next batch soon!

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 medium/small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already have takers for half this haul, guess I’d better start the next batch soon!

I doubt I need to tell you how to put kraut into a jar. But I will make a few suggestions. You’ll want to stir and fluff the batch first and try to take your spoonfuls (or handfuls) from the bottom of the crock. This is where the juice ends up and you don’t want your first jars to be dry and your last jars to be juicy. Aim for getting some juice in all the jars, and once full, pack it down hard. Continue to add and pack until the well packed jar is full. Screw on the lid and store in the refrigerator. You can certainly eat your kraut right away once it’s jarred, but it will get better and better the longer you wait – up until a point anyway. I sampled a jar from my friend that had been stored in the fridge for 9 months. He shared it with sacred reverence like a well aged single malt and it was quite divine. I try to wait at least 2 weeks after the jarring before I sell or barter any with friends. It’s a long time for them to wait outside in line, but people do it for concerts, right?

And if you find a long lost jar in the back of your fridge one day, and are nervous about trying it, let me know and I’ll send Mr. McKraut over with his pie hole. Just have your fork poised and ready, eh?

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Have you wondered what was involved in the making of goat cheese but were afraid it would be too complicated? Well, then goat chevre is for you (and me!). In fact, it would take great talent to really screw up a batch of chevre, which it why it is my cheese of choice at the farm. Below is the description of how I make chevre, from the milking to the jared product. Keep in mind there are many “proper” ways to make chevre and my way is only one. Perhaps it will work for you, or just give you a place to start from to develope your own particular way. And also keep in mind that we are a VERY small operation. In fact, we have only one milking goat at present and she is about to be dried out for kidding. (But we are freezing jars of chevre in preparation for our few months without milk – it freezes wonderfully!)

Let’s start at the beginning with the milk.

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In my opinion, the three most important factors contributing to the taste of goat milk and goat cheese are cleanliness of the milking area, cleanliness of the equipment, and getting the milk chilled down below 40 degrees F in as short a time as possible (and DEFINITELY within 1 hour). If you, or your farmer, adhere(s) to these rules, your milk should be sweet, creamy, and NOT goatie tasting. (Of course, there are other things that can effect the flavor of the milk, such as the plants a browsing goat may consume, a buck kept with the does, or any medications the goat my be given). And please do not use store bought goat milk from a carton for your cheese making. Believe me – your cheese will taste terrible! In fact, I can not even eat store bought goat cheese anymore since we got our own goats and make our own cheese. Yes, spoiled we might be, but the difference in taste is amazing! It’s the store bought goat milk that has given it a bad name.

So if you are not keeping your own goats, please ask your farmer a few questions before you whip out your wallet and tuck those quart jars into your cooler. Or if you are just getting started on keeping goats yourself, consider following these simple rules:

1. Cleanliness of the milking area

No, I am not talking about haz-mat suits, respirators and stainless steel milking parlors. Although if you want to sell your dairy legally in stores, that’s not too far off the mark. But for the wee farmer down the road (like myself), the milking stand should be kept in a ventilated area as free from the smells of urine and manure as possible. These smells can lay down over the surface of the fresh milk in your pail and transfer into the milk itself. The milking stand should be reasonably clean as well. And your goat should get a quick (at the least) brushing before the milking commences so as to remove dirt, manure and fur that could (and will) fall into your pail. (Milking pail lids with little crescent moon holes are pretty cool but my aim has never been good enough to use them. Plus I like to milk while looking at the morning sun on our southern mountain range so I need the large opening.). I use two squeeze bottles – one with hot water and 5-6 drops of grapefruit seed extract, and the other with olive oil, and a small clean rag (we use our old cloth diaper wipes which are just the right size). Once Hazelnut is on her stand and brushed (especially about the udder and hind quarters), I rinse her teats with the hot water bottle, then my hands, and then dry my hands and the teats on the rag. Next, a squeeze a dime sized puddle of olive oil in my palm and rub it about my palm and thumb webs. This step makes the milking more pleasant for both of us, and keeps Hazelnut’s teats from drying out. A clearing squirt from each teat goes on the floor (or in your shoe if you have my aim issues), and then the milking commences. The bucket needs to be kept as clean as possible during and after milking, so it is best to leave the milking as your last chore in the barnyard and go straight back to the house. This is only how I milk. There are many ways to milk which would meet those “reasonably hygienic” standards you are looking for to make great tasting cheese.

Then that precious milk needs to be strained. We go the simple route and use a plastic tea strainer with a folded piece of cheese cloth pushed into it. BUT, we make sure that the cloth is washed and rinsed and dried well between uses, and the same with the strainer. There are fancy disposable paper strainers you can buy on line but I abhor all things disposable. Why make more waste to fill our landfills when the old fashion ways are usually just fine? When I am unsure of my choices, I ask myself, “What would Ma and Pa Ingles have done?” As Laura Ingles Wilder lived to be 90 years old, I figure their methods are good enough for me!

2. Chill that milk fast!

We use the milking pail itself so we can move it out of the sink if the sink is needed. The strained milk goes into quart sized mason jars and are placed in the pail which is then filled with cold water and ice. This ice bath method is MUCH faster at dropping the milk temp than just placing the jars in the freezer for chilling. I have timed and checked temps with both methods, so you don’t have to do it yourself (unless you are stubborn like me). After about an hour we shift the jars into the fridge affixing the day of the week on each lid.

3. Cleanliness of equipment

Hard to know where to place this detail as it important throughout. Always best to wash anything that comes in contact with milk with COLD water first. Hot water welds the milk onto surfaces (think of scalded milk) and builds up a milk scale over time. After the cold rinse and scrub, then wash with very hot water, detergent that is not scented, and a stiff brush or green scrubbie. Several very hot rinses follow and then air drying. Do NOT air dry upside down on a towel as it will turn into a bacteria breeding hot house! Set your jars, pail, strainer, cloth, cheese making equipment, etc on a metal rack to dry.

MAKING THE CHEVRE

Take a deep breath because the hard part is behind you. For making chevre you will need a cheese thermometer (or any thermometer that will measure liquids between 80 and 150 degrees F), a stainless steel pot, a spoon, a measuring cup, and the chevre culture. I purchase my cultures through either Cultures For Health or New England Cheese Making Supply Co. I buy many at a time and store them in the freezer to save shipping costs.

So! Measure out a gallon of fresh goat milk and pour it into your clean stainless steel pot. When I say fresh I mean no more than 5 days old and kept chilled in the fridge throughout. Heat the milk to either 86 degrees F, if you want raw chevre, or 145 degrees F if you want pasteurized chevre. I used to pasteurize but now make all my cheese raw as I trust our milking hygiene and prefer to have the beneficial enzymes and bacteria remain in my cheese. In either case, stir continuously and watch your thermometer like a hawk. You will be shocked at how fast the temp will spring over your mark – the pot itself holds heat, even when removed from the unit. If you are pasteurizing, once your milk reaches 145 degrees F, stir and keep at this temp for 30 minutes (or so I have read, although I never did this myself), and then place the pot carefully into an ice bath (ice and water in your sink) and keep stirring until the temp is almost down to 86 degrees. Be careful not to let any of the bath water slip over into the milk. In either case, raw or pasteurized, 86 degrees F is your goal. Obviously, if going the raw route, just bring your milk up to 86 degrees and you will have no ice bath to fool with. This is the temperature the culture prefers and does best at. Once you reach this temp, shake in the contents of the culture packet and stir for a couple of minutes. Then set the pot on a counter with a lid and leave undisturbed for about 12 hours. Honestly, this time is very flexible – sometimes I let it sit for 8 hrs and sometimes for 16. But I aim for 12. The packet instructions say to let the milk with added culture sit at 72 degrees F but I assure you I do not adjust the temperature of our house to accomodate the cheese making! Our house is usually between 65 and 70 degrees and my cheese is just fine.

Can you see the 3/4" of cream on the top here?

Can you see the 3/4″ of cream on the top here?

We scoop this off and freeze it for later use for making butter or ice cream.

We scoop this off and freeze it for later to make butter or ice cream. It is, of course, fine to leave the cream in the cheese too! But as we do not notice the difference when consuming the cheese, we choose to skim the cream first.

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter's mouth for a treat....

Or sometimes I spoon it into my daughter’s mouth for a treat….

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Delectable! Heavier than heavy whipping cream!

Measure out a gallon of milk...

Measure out a gallon of milk…

...pour it into the pot...

…pour it into the pot…

...raise the temp up to 86 degrees F...

…raise the temp up to 86 degrees F for raw chevre (I take the pot off the unit when the temp is about 84 degrees as it will continue to rise)…

...stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it's magic.

…stir in the culture and set the pot on the counter to do it’s magic.

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Remember to wash all those empty jars in cold water first!

Once the desired time has passed, prepare another pot, with a colander set on the top, and line the colander with butter muslin cloth (you can purchase butter muslin at the same stores that sell the culture). Gently ladle the solid curd into the muslin and scrape the pot bottom to get the remainder into the cloth. The whey will immediately begin to drip through sounding like rain pattering on a tin roof. Place the lid over the colander and let the curds drain for… oh 4-18 hrs… depending on what consistency you desire. If you want very soft, spreadable chevre, go for the shorter end of the time spectrum. If you want dryer chevre to put on salads, go for longer. And remember, it is not rocket science. Chevre is very forgiving in my experience. Many people will tie up their muslin cloth and hang it from a sink faucet, but I find it does perfectly well sitting in the colander (and I need my sink!). But hanging will lessen the needed time for the draining so keep that in mind.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Setting up the colander to drain the whey from the curd.

Ladling the curd.

Ladling the curd.

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All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

All the curd and whey is transfered and the whey is draining.

Don't forget the lid!

Don’t forget the lid!

Once your chevre is at your desired consistency, lift the cloth out and let the cheese fall into a large mixing bowl. Then smash and fluff it to blend it evenly. If you want to add salt, this would be the time to do it (we do not). Place your cheese into pretty jars, drizzle the top with olive oil, and decorate with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few peppercorns. Or a chive blossom, or nasturtium, or mix in honey and dried lavender buds. Let your imagination run wild! So many flavors are wonderful with chevre. And don’t throw out that whey! Mix it with your dog’s kibble, feed it to your chickens, or soak your beans and grains in it (mixed with the same measure of water). Many people like to drink it straight! We use it for all the above and also freeze it in quart jars to use later for cultured vegetable making (see my sauerkraut post here).

This is a nice middle ground consistency - note the cracks on the surface of the cheese.

This is a nice middle ground consistency – note the cracks on the surface of the cheese. If the bag of cheese was hanging, you would have to give it a squeeze test to check consistency.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it's pulled up.

Also note how the cheese separates from the muslin when it’s pulled up.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

I fold it away from the cloth first with a rubber spatula.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Then I transfer it into a mixing bowl.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Mash and fluff the cheese to a smooth consistency.

Then jar as you choose.

Then jar as you choose.

The whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Here’s the whey remaining in the pot below the colander.

Jar that whey up and save it for later tuse!

Jar that whey up and save it for later use!

A note about washing your muslin cloth: Rinse it with cold water first, then wash well in hot, soapy water, rinsing many times. If your cloth develops an odor, boil it in a pot of water with some baking soda added and rinse afterwards. Air dry. When I feel lazy I have been known to shove the cloth into the regular machine wash with our clothes and have had no problems. Just be sure you are using laundry soap that is free and clear of chemical additives and fragrances.

TALLOW UPDATE:

And while I am posting, my faithful readers may like to know what happened to the rest of the rendered goat fat. (If you are reading for the first time, check out the previous post here.) Here are a few pictures of that solidified disk of fat I previously wrote about:

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Using a hot knife, I sliced the disk into rough quarters.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggies and placed in the freezer with the tallow muffins.

Then each quarter was sealed into a gallon zip lock baggie and placed in the freezer along with the tallow muffins.

And now ALL the fat has been rendered a second time, is clean as a whistle, and waiting for my future adventures in the arts of making soap, salves and lotion bars!

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I love looking at a fresh head of cabbage: the pale underground quality of the spring green, the slight waxy sheen of the surface, the sturdy leaf spines ending in curling ripples, like a gentle ocean wavelet, sucking back down a steep, sandy beach. I love the crunch of my heavy 10″ chopping knife as it reveals the secretes within that dense head.

Good thing, because I had nine of them to chop which meant a lot of cabbage brains spilling over my counter top. But that was where friend Marian came in… with her superior Japanese cutlery and sexy bamboo cutting board. Whew! Off the hook.

Here's Marian hard at work.

Here’s Marian hard at work.

And so my morning began, with “Mare” on washing and chopping detail and Isla and I on the food processor, sea salt, caraway and whey song and dance (maybe I’ll include a video of the literal song and dance when we jar the kraut in another 2 weeks, for there actually IS one! Hasn’t everyone made up a kraut song with their 3 year old?). We alternated purple heads with green, grinding in a large carrot with each. Then 1 tbsp of coarse celtic sea salt, 3/4ish tbsp caraway seeds and 4-ish to 5 tbsp of whey left over from my last batch of goat chevre. Isla and I filled the hopper, I ground while she covered her sensitive, wee ears, I dumped the pile in the massive metal bowl, I measured and Isla dumped in the condiments. Then together, with very well washed hands, we stirred it all in , inquisitive fingertips tickling one another inside of the grated mass. Most of it stayed in the bowl. The vegetables dwindled as our multi-colored mound grew, and pretty soon it was time for clean up and hugging Mare goodbye. And here is where I let the salt and whey do their jobs. There is very little kraut bashing with this method. I just leave it to rest on a counter top with a clean towel draped over it, and get to work on something else.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey....

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey….

...mix, cover, and wait!

…mix, cover, and wait!

The next something else was re-rendering our recently rendered goat tallow. I had noticed at the end of the first rendering, that there were a few bits of meat on the bottom of the last batch of tallow muffins. Read this post for more info on that first rendering job. I was not interested in goat meat showing up in future soaps, lotion bars and pastry crusts, so I set a massive pot on the stove top with about 4″ of water in the bottom.

While that got to boiling, I moved onto the third something else – boiling up a whole chicken for bone broth, gelatin, and meat. As I rinsed the expensive, organic chicken carcass, I vowed that we would buy straight runs of chicks this spring. I wanted my fall freezer filled with mean roosters from my back yard. No more $12 chickens from the store!!! I plopped the gold gilt bird into our crock pot with water and reached for one of our onions. This was when I received a horrible shock! No, not an electrical shock, a “we’re almost out of onions” shock! In fact, after this one, there was only one left!!! Our harvest had lasted until Feb 6th. Honestly, I was quite proud, but still weepy, as I sliced through the brittle, brown skin and into the white, seeping flesh. Oh. Well of course I was weeping – it was a yellow onion.

We try to boil up a whole chicken about once every 2 weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

We try to boil up a whole chicken once every 2 or so weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

Crock pot loaded and topped, I checked the pot on the stove. Boiling – good. Outside to the deep freeze on the porch. Molly, our Pyrenees leapt repeatedly into the air, channeling her border collie alter ego, hoping to catch a falling goat roast as I juggled the bags of tallow muffins. I dumped them ALL in, undeniable proof of my characteristic impatience.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Now what? I put away some dishes, blended up some kefir mango lassies, sliced some pears, spread chevre on the slices, and called back in my daughter for her elevensies (oh woops – at 12:30pm. Dear me. Don’t think I would impress any parenting specialists today.). And then, thankfully, it was quiet time. Isla read “quietly” on her bed (which means in a loud whisper to her doll Sarah) while I read a parenting book on mine, in hopes of getting a higher rating from said specialists. And as an aside, this is one of my two most favorite parenting books and I am reading it for the second time. How to Talk So Kids Will listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. (And here is the second of my 2 favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting”.)

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir.

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir mango lassies.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture. It should be ready to consume in about 2 full days.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend's farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend’s farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender. If we feel the need for more sweetener in the cup, we add a couple of drops of stevia.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Rest “hour” always feels like it is only 10 minutes, but the clock argued with my opinion loudly. Back in the kitchen I checked the tallow. It was melting nicely but there were still plenty of chunks. The “golden chicken” in the crock pot was simmering cooperatively, and it was not yet animal chore time. So back to the kraut went I.

I washed and rinsed well the 5 gal crock. I say this in such an off hand manner, but this is probably the hardest part of the the entire job. Have you ever tried to lift a 5 gallon, stoneware crock? No? Well start preparing the discs in your spine for some serious air time because they are about to be blown from your back in all directions. And then once in your sink – your teeny, miniscule, stainless steel sink (where you realize with terror that you have swiveled the spigot to the wrong side of the barely movable crock-a-saurus) – you have your eye balls shaken and teeth set on edge by the barest of movements of this mountain of ceramic against that teeny sink. Think fingernails on chalk boards. After this heavy weight wrestling match you still need to dry the leviathan and beach it onto the seat of a chair. Let’s hope the legs of that chair don’t promptly retaliate against the whale you dropped in their lap.

Next, with carefully wash hands, the kraut is transfered lovingly from the bowl to the crock, by double handfuls. (Make sure the crock is on a chair and not the floor as with all those missing discs, you will no longer be able to bend over.) At this time, if I were adding fresh dill instead of caraway, I would layer in a dill sprig after each couple of double handfuls. If you feel the need for some anger management, you are welcome to bring out a kraut bat at this time and pummel the kraut into submission. But it really is not necessary as the resting with the salt should have pulled the juices out of the grated vegetables by now. The addition of the whey will have given you plenty of juice. Give it a check by pushing your open hand down on the surface of the kraut. See all that juice rise up between your fingers? If you are answering “no”, then you probably weigh under 100 lbs and need to eat a lot more kraut. LEAN into it you light weight! THERE is that juice! I have to admit I like to abuse my kraut just a wee bit before I shut it up in the dark for 2 weeks. I have tried stomping in the crock with meticulously cleaned bare feet, but with size ten battleships, it was not terribly comfortable. So I usually just use my balled fists and puuuush in, alternating hands. I have not yet identified this gene – the one that entices me to do more work than I need to – the same gene that convinces me to knead my no-knead bread dough. But there it is.

Transferring the kraut from bowl to the crock.

Transferring the kraut from the bowl to the crock.

Punch it out baby!

Punch it out baby!

There's that magic juice!

There’s that magic juice!

Now I slip in an upside down dinner plate, well washed and rinsed first, of just the right size to cover as much of the surface as possible with out getting hung up on the sides of the crock (because ceramic grating on ceramic is only second in line behind ceramic on steel). Then I burp out the trapped air by pushing hard on one edge of the plate until all the bubbles release from under the concave surface of the plate. (You are welcome to use a truck with a cherry picker to lift the crock to your shoulder if you would like to attempt the burping in a more motherly fashion.) Then I fill a half gallon, or 2 qt jars (meticulously washed and rinse before hand, inside and out) with water, screw the lids on tightly, and place these weights on the protruding rump of the plate. This is merely to hold the plate down and keep the kraut under the juice. Lastly, cover the crock with a clean towel (I use a thick bath towel doubled over), and hire your neighbor and his back hoe to move it to a quiet spot in your house where it can remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. Join me in said time to see what our cheese whey and nifty, household microbes have created by clicking this link here.

Plate in and weighted with a half gallon jar filled with water.

Plate in and weighted down with a half gallon jar filled with water.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it's final resting place to do it's thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it’s final resting place to do it’s thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

OK. The tallow. It had melted and was at a rolling bowl with the water, hopefully as clean as a whistle. Then I simply repeated the previous rendering steps of ladling out the clear, liquid fat, straining it through a butter muslin-lined strainer, into a 4 cup measure, then pouring from the measuring cup into the muffin tins. Soon after, I discovered the process was not proceeding as planned (or previously experienced). It seems my impatient personality (that other unwanted gene) was not allowing the muffin tins enough time to chill in the freezer. So learn from my T’s and T’s (trials and tribulations) – let the tallow chill until some surface cracks show on the muffin tops. Do not try to extricate the muffins before this time (unless you want to bring in your neighbor’s heavy equipment again). Once the surface cracks are visible, run hot water over the bottom of the tins (quickly as they will want to leap from your overturned tin and break themselves in the depths of that teeny, weeny stainless steel sink with the ceramic scrapes on the edges), and pop the remaining muffins out onto a sheet of wax paper by inverting the tin again and pressing the center of each muffin cup. Slip the muffins into a gallon zip lock, suck out the air with your mouth, and store in the freezer.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

But I did not finish muffinizing all the tallow as animal chore time, laundry folding, hot bath, speedy dinner, and a movie with Marian preempted the rest of my greasy project (and I highly recommend seeing “Silver Linings Playbook”, by the ah, “whey”). So today I have a cool pot of water (I presume) with a thick circular block of solidified tallow on the surface (guessing at being 5″ thick without taking a core sample to verify). As I have been writing, I have not had a chance to tackle it’s removal. And I am about to make the drive to pick Isla up from pre-school now. (But you can see what it looked like at the end of this later post.)

I think I’ll just call my neighbor on the way and hire his power auger. I’m sure that will do the trick!

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner.

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner that evening.

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(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III)

And then it was simply another Back Porch Farm work party.

Day 1: Friends were laughing and cracking jokes and knives were hacking. Bill, Chuck and I made a concerted effort to keep each other’s fingers intact while Randy, Deedee, Drew (who’s arrival I had barely been aware of), and Carrie, with wee Larka asleep on her back, chatted and watched, asking questions when curious. The carcass was hung by carabiners snapped through the hind leg tendons. The biners were then laid over hooks screwed into a previously set 2×4, cantilevered out from the shed wall. The skinning was awkward, but after some direction and correction from the boys, I got the hang of it. I wish I could have had hours to simply study the warm pile of entrails – seriously. It was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be. So many closely working parts. These organs had been in complete dependance on each other, and had danced their dance in perfect synch to keep that body functioning. I felt like I was back in my high school biology classroom on dissection day. It was necessary to follow plumbing in all directions to be sure nothing was punctured or breeched. After all this, I was certainly not going to taint the meat! The guts did NOT just “fall out” as I had read. It took a lot of investigative effort to detach each organ at the right spot, and we (or “I” at least) were also trying to save as much of the white sheets of fat as possible from within the cavity. I had visions of bricks of clean tallow for cooking, soap making and candles.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

I am getting started on the skinning.

I am getting started on the skinning.

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Chuck, Bill and myself at work.

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We are finally in the abdominal cavity.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Once the cavity was cleared and the massive liver set aside, Chuck, Bill and I continued with the hide removal. Finally, somewhere on a shoulder, our blades met and the hide fell the the earth. I want to do SOMETHING with it, but I still don’t know what. I have been warned that it is an extremely tedious process to tan a hide, especially without chemicals. I just don’t know if I am up for it. The alternative would be to scrape and salt it and let it dry rigid. Then I could use it for a rug. But do I really want Bucky on our floor? Um, honestly, no. It is starting to look like it will end up as coyote food, although it is still hanging safely on our porch as I write. And then there is Marian, who keeps eyeing it thoughtfully….

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Hide is off and we're working on backstraps and tenderloins.

Hide is off and Chuck is working on a backstrap.

Next were the back straps (the strips of muscles along each side of the exterior of the spine) and tender loins (the strips of muscles along each side of the interior of the spine). We were instructed to treat them like gold and not share them with anyone. They were basically our fillet mignons. Then the ribs skirts were sliced off (thin sheets of layers of fat and stringy muscle below the boney ribs). Next were the rumps which meant the entire hind legs, and they were removed whole and hauled off to the prepared table inside the warm house. This is where the roasts would come from. The party meandered slowly back to the porch, away from the melting snow and gray skies, to the warm house, thick with smells of baking bread and pungent stew. It was 11:30 and we had been at it for about 2 hrs. Glasses were passed out and the scotch bottle followed and soon there was the chorus of “Slante!” and “Prost!” and “Cheers!” and a few others. Isla big sistered Larka with tenderness while we all dug into bowls of stew and heavily buttered slabs of hot, einkhorn bread.

I leaned against Randy’s tall, broad form with a deep sigh. I was caked in mud, blood, bile, grease, and melted snow. I was tired. I was relieved. I murmured, “Did you hear what Bill said to me?” He shook his head and waited, his mouth stuffed like a chipmunk’s. “When he cut off the head and looked for the bullet holes, he found the entry hole was dead center below the nob, just where I wanted it. The exit hole was through the center of the lower jaw – also right where I wanted it. He said I split the tongue clean in half.” I smiled shyly as it seemed a strange thing to brag about. Especially seeing as I had no memory of firing the shot. Marian told me later she suspected I had a lot of “help”, said with a glance to the heavens. I heartily agree with her opinion. I can only surmise I was channeling some mighty Amazons warriors that gray morning.

Working on a hunk of rump.

Trimming fat from a chunk of the rump.

Once appetites were satiated, Carrie and I sat down at the meat table, each with a hind leg in front of us, and set to work. Bill and Deedee said their farewells, Chuck took over child care, Randy began clean up and the brewing of a large pot of tea, and Marian (our duplex mate who had collected the 2 young girls under her wing for the first part of the morning) worked out the idiosyncrasies of the borrowed vacuum sealer. After another hour and a half, Marian and I were the only ones left. Randy and Isla had laid down for nap time and everyone else had returned to their own homes. Finally, after the 2 legs were packaged into nice little roasts and a bunch of soup bones, the 2 of us were spent, and said goodbye, she to walk across the courtyard to her apartment, and me, after a bit of this and that, to slip eventually into another hot bath.

Once more in the red glow of the bath candle, I stared out the picture window at the low, moody sky and gray dusk, watching the drops of rain wind their serpentine paths down the misty glass towards Mother Earth. The weather had been above freezing the entire day, melting our snow cover and dumping us into an early mud season of sorts. It was the first day above freezing in many weeks, and would be the first above freezing night as well. It added greatly to the surreal feeling of the day as we had just emerged from a winter lock down of weeks of sub zero temps. But the gloomy, darkening sky did not match my mood. I felt light and relieved and…. proud. And I knew that a full wolf moon was rising above the eastern hills as I soaked my bones and sipped my scotch. How interesting that this goat harvest had surrentipitously fallen on a full moon. Then, with a deep breath, I began my prayers of thanks. I thanked my higher powers for keeping my aim true, for keeping my arm steady, and for letting Bucky pass from this world with the least amount of trauma and suffering that we could offer. I gave thanks for my amazing friends and community, for all the support I had received during the preparation for this day, and for the friends (and even strangers) who had left encouraging comments on my blog and Facebook posts. I could envision this network of support surrounding me for many months prior, like a web of love and understanding… of shared strength.

And then I remembered entreating the Amazon warrior/mothers the night before. I let out a little chuckle. For I realized that not only had I received their help and support, I had become one of them. I had walked across the coals of initiation and passed the test. I was the newest member of the Amazon tribe.

Day 2 saw Randy back at his paying job, Isla set up with a pad and her paints, Marian grinding trimmed fat in the food grinder, and me hacking at the front legs for sausage. Alternately we would assist Isla with “oooos” and “aaahhs” while admiring her Picasso in process, or plop another mound of fat into the simmering crock pot, or ladle off a few spoonfuls of clear, greasy liquid, or drain these ladles into muffin tins through a cheese cloth lined strainer. Once the tallow muffins solidified, they were popped out and moved into gallon zip lock bags to be stored in the freezer. They were clean, white, and odorless. I fantasized mixing them with my melted bees wax, some of our honey, some goat cream I had been slowly collecting in the freezer, essential oils and healing herbs, and whipping out some mighty fine soap and lotion bars. Our hands were already soft as babies bottoms just from working with the dense fat.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it's in small pieces.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it’s in small pieces.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Marian posing here as the Queen of the Fat. She ground for many hours.

Marian posing here as the Queen of Fat. She ground for many hours as you can see!

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins.

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins. The cracklins were a mix of deep fried meat scraps, connective tissue, sinew, and etc. left behind once the fat was removed. They did not temp me in the least, although I know some people like to munch on them.

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

And once solidified....

And once solidified….

...we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

…we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

The pile of hacked off sausage meat grew larger while a matching pile of stripped, gleaming bones collected. I found the rib skirts hiding in the platter of fat and set to work trimming them out. Not sure that was worth the effort, it was so tightly layered, each layer of alternating fat and meat extremely thin. A late lunch and naptime for the Nugget separated us from Marian once more and Isla and I got happily horizontal. It wasn’t for nearly long enough in mama’s opinion. Randy had agreed to take the afternoon off from his paying job, so once I was back with the living, I set him to sawing ribs off the carcass that was hanging inside the shed, and hacking sausage makings off the second front leg. I kept up with the fat rendering and our wee lassie.

By nightfall, the house was a greasy, waxy disaster. The tall freezer on the porch was mounded high with bowls and platters of meat and bones. This lumpy burden reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s interior beneath mirrored it’s handicap with a bulging belly of assorted goat meat cuts and bags of rendered fat muffins, nestled around our 1/8 of a local, pasture-raised cow, 2 of our turkey tommies, one last mean rooster, a venison gift from friends, the remaining stores of frozen garden veggies and strawberries, and frozen jars of tomato sauce, homemade soup, bone broths, goat milk, goat cheese, cheese whey, salsa verde, roasted pablanos, (take a breath) and you get the picture! And I was brain dead – not even the energy left for a shower. I was on the get-the-kid-ready-for-bed-march-of-death brigade and tucked my crusty body in beside her with the shortest book I could find. My angelic husband continued to hack meat and clean up way past bedtime. God I love him.

Day 3 began with the arrival of Drew and a nice preliminary chat over black coffee. Isla was playing nicely alone, so Drew snuck out back with a bone saw and began to disassemble the remaining backbone and pelvis. There was only soup bone material left so this job was quick. Then he got on the vacuum sealer while I warmed up the food grinder. Laying out my bowls of freshly ground spice mix, my rendered tallow disks, cutting board, knife, package of organic bacon, wax paper sheets, platter and massive bowl, I pushed up sleeves, donned my apron, and dove in. And I ground sausage meat for what felt like hours. Well, it WAS hours! About half way through, Drew got a hankering to TASTE some sausage. Heck, I had been planning to give a little space between the carcass processing and the actual EATING of it. But he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

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The sausage set up.

Grinding, grinding, grinding....

Grinding, grinding, grinding….

I formed him up 4 patties with my goopy hands and he popped them into the cast iron skillet. A delightful aroma filled the kitchen as the patties sizzled happily without any extra oil. He cracked open a turkey egg each for each of us and fried them up beside the goat meat. (Holy crap! That was sausage from our goat! From BUCKY!) He was grinning ear to ear with anticipation and couldn’t serve our plates fast enough. I then had a very emotional moment while bracing myself dramatically against the kitchen counter. It was not about Bucky, per se. It was that I was really, truly living my dream life – the homesteading life I had imagined for so many years. Eating our mean roosters was one thing, but one of our goats? I was about to do just that! I was about to sit down with my good friend and my daughter to have a lunch of goat sausage and turkey eggs, which both originated a stone’s throw from the back porch. And just to amp up my fragile emotional state, I cracked a fresh jar of my own canned apple sauce to spoon out along side!

Ooooh baby!

Oh my!

Isla was non-plussed. In fact I had to stop her mid bite to say grace and give thanks to Bucky before chowing down. She said little but kept shoveling. Drew took a bite and then closed his eyes to savor it. “Oh – My – God.” he said slowly. “That is divine.” I was struggling. I stared hard at my plate, I cut off a hunk, I stabbed it with my fork, and I stared some more. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and it disappeared into my maw. My first reaction was a violent shiver from head to toe. Then a slight gag reflex. Then my taste buds found their anchor point in the familiar hint of bacon, and the bite slithered down my throat. And the next bite. And the next. And the egg and the apple sauce and the fresh cup of coffee. I seemed to have developed a mild, full body tremor that was humming from within. Drew summed it up with sparkling eyes when he said, “Wow. I’ve got a little buzz going. That sausage has some potent life force in it.” Yes, that was it! In fact, I wanted to go running around outside and do a half gainer and donkey kick off a play stump in the goat pen! This was Super Food! And it was going to take some getting used to – small portions. I would have to warn my friends when I passed out thank you packages. WOW. I could FEEL it. This was real food – food that I had loved and cared for, food that had had a happy life, food from a very healthy animal, food from my friggin’ BACKYARD!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, give the Bucky sausages a thumbs up!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, gives the Bucky sausage a thumbs up!

I had DONE IT!!!

And yes, Drew and I finished packaging EVERYTHING that afternoon, including the liver. And all the fat was rendered and the deep freeze is bursting at it’s seams. I have yet to finish cleaning the house, but it will happen this weekend. The massive Kitchen Aid food grinder we borrowed is still claiming the western third of the dining room table, but I am rather getting used to it.

Perhaps with luck, Wes won’t even miss it.

Post Script:

That very afternoon, after nap time had past, Isla and I cleaned up the vacuum sealer, loaded up a jar of our goat cheese and a 6 pack of goat sausage, and headed out into a freshening snow storm to Thomas’ house. It had been his generosity that had provided us with the use of a vacuum sealer. It was a quick pass off and short greeting as I was anxious of the mounting storm, and Isla and I were soon back on the highway headed home. The blizzard quickly turned into a white out and I shifted into 4WD and slowed down to 25. I was acutely aware of the dropping temps, watching the car thermometer like a hawk. 33 degrees. Treacherous driving conditions to be sure. As we slowly took the turn onto our own road, the temp dropped to 32. I was creeping along, dodging pot holes, taking my time. Then, with a completely out of place flash of lightening, and boom of thunder, the LED display dropped once more to 31 degrees. It was literally the first time it had gone below freezing since the morning Bucky was shot. For 3 days the weather had remained perfect refrigerator temperature, between 33 and 41 degrees (which was significant as we did not have a walk in fridge to store the carcass and waiting parts in).

That night it was in the teens once more, and the following night back to sub zero winter weather. It was sunny and biting cold. A fresh, cleansing mantle of snow laid over the mud, ice, and blood of the days before, hiding the evidence, granting us a grateful closure, and allowing us to move forward in our lives.

Back to winter.

Back to winter.

Post Post Script:

Several people have been curious about how Bucky’s demise affected the remaining goats. I had also wondered if we would sense any discomfort on their part. I can say that in the week leading up to the harvest, I had verbally “warned” all 3 goats (Auntie Hazelnut, Cousin Fiona and Bucky) that Bucky would be leaving soon and they all needed to prepare and say goodbye. And I can say that before I led him from the pen on the morning of, I told them all to say their farewells, that Bucky would not be coming back. The shot was taken around the corner of the house, away from the barn and barnyard, and the hanging of the carcass was not in their view.

I feel we must never underestimate what animals understand. I certainly do not think they understood my conversation in human english as I talked to them, but I think on a spiritual, energetic, or psychic level, they got the gist just fine. And I also think animals process emotions in a very different way than humans. They are in the here and now, just like young children. There is food and there is water and they are healthy, comfortable and feel safe. As long as they are cared for properly, they do not worry, or really think about much but when their human will visit again and when dinner is being served.

But back to the question at hand: All the goats were fine and unstressed – including Bucky! I can honestly say he never knew what hit him. He was not anxious in any way when I led him out of the pen. Hazelnut gave her normal quantity of milk the next morning, and Fiona and her never seemed to be “looking” for Bucky. They showed no indication of any sort of distress at all.

I have to say I was very relieved to witness this!

 

The tally sheet:

11.35 lbs of sausage patties

13.25 lbs of rendered tallow (several pounds went back into the sausage)

14.35 lbs of soup/bone broth/dog bones with minimal meat left (several bones has already gone to Molly our Pyrenees before the weighing)

4.50 lbs of ribs

1.45 lbs of liver (currently researching liver pate recipes)

2.65 lbs of rib skirt (really this should have all gone into the sausage, but we’ll try a stew)

.75 lbs tender loins

3.85 lbs back strap

10.45 lbs rump roasts (I would like to attempt some jerky out of the biggest one)

5.95 lbs of cracklins from the fat rendering which we are slowly feeding to the delighted chickens

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68.50 lbs total (head, lower legs, and offal were offered to the coyotes in a distant arroyo. Hide is still being deliberated over as it hangs on our porch.)

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That would be…. Me. It’s true. I chose to be one today. It was so preferable over my other choice – doing the exact same tasks while whining about it. Might as well embrace it enthusiastically! Yes?

So while Randy went to work (BLM) for a quick check in, and then to the mill for more lumber, I began my day of devahood. First I showered (with Isla) and dressed (while Isla sat on the floor of the shower, water trickling between her shoulder blades, scrubbing the bottoms of her little feet). Then I dressed the reluctant 2 yr old as well. Next I washed the pile of dishes (from last night’s dinner) and cleaned the counter tops (while Isla alternately became either a goat named Gwendolyn or a girl named Gwendolyn). Then I began the prep for the potato leek soup.

First, I sliced and washed the leeks, then Isla helped me scrub the last of our purple potatoes from the fall harvest. I peeled their nobbly, old surfaces, revealing the violet and lavender meat beneath. Isla walked a large potato around the counter tops on it’s dark purple sprout feet. Taters chopped, I sauteed the leeks in olive oil, added garlic, caraway seeds and pepper, and finally the taters.

I love the spring colors of chopped leeks.

Fresh ground pepper, celtic sea salt, caraway seeds, and garlic.

When I say "the last" of the purple potatoes, I really mean it as we are not planning on planting any purple varieties this spring.

Broth from boiling down some very mean roosters.

All was covered in defrosted rooster broth, salted, and brought to a boil, very slowly. Very, VERY slowly, as there are only 2 working units on our old stove top and both are of the most tiniest variety. I think on the high setting, the big soup pot, reserved for group rafting trips, MIGHT have felt a slight… tickle on it’s nether regions. But it gave me plenty of time to deal with the bread.

No-knead bread dough after the first rise.

I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge and stretched the sticky batch into 2 hunks. This is my favorite recipe for artisan bread – 4 ingredients and no-knead. But I kneaded each hunk a few times anyway just because I like to. After rolling the logs in some seeds  and cutting some sexy diagonal slices in the bulging mounds, I placed them on the baker’s peel with a sprinkling of cornmeal between. They rose for the second time beneath a clean towel while I went back to the soup. Then Randy arrived with the lumber.

Who can resist a little kneading?

Rising on the baker's peel.

Next was the kale. RG, here to add more time to his work barter, pulled into the driveway, and pushed through the gate with toolbelt slung over his shoulder. I tore chunks of kale off the stems and swished the pile in a sink of cold water, remembering to chop the stems up for the chickens. The soup was FINALLY at a boil, so I piled the kale on top and stirred it in. Yummmm. I love kale. Have you ever had kale chips? I made an entire dehydrator full last summer and they did not even last 24 hrs. Absolutely addictive!

Ripped kale.

Chickens get all the decent scraps - never just "compost" which goes in another container - and always organic.

“Mama? Can you read this to me?” It was the 3rd book from “elsewhere” that I had passed her to keep her from under foot. She was being extremely wonderful in occupying herself so her request gave me a pang of Mama guilt. I had a moment between the next boil (possibly hours with the stove top handicap) and when the bread would go in the oven. So we sat together in our reading nook and read some Aesop’s Fables.

The percussive waves of rhythmic hammering reached my chest. “I’ve got to get back to the cooking sweetie.” “No, my name is Gwendolyn Mama, not Sweetie, said Gwendolyn.” I have no idea how she developed this 3rd person narrative style of talking, but as it’s been in use for a few months now, we are getting used to it. “Yes… ah, Gwendolyn.” The oven was pre-heated enough (about an hour). I slid the 2 loaves from the peel to the pizza stone and filled the tray on the top rack with hot water. Steam issued from the oven as I slammed the door shut! “OK. Where was I?” I said aloud. Set the table, fill the water glasses, and peek periodically out the window as the siding went up, one board at a time. It was looking more and more like a barn every minute. MY barn. I heaved a happy sigh.

Working on the facia board for the upper clerestory roof.

As I washed dishes a second time, I thought back to my email volley with Elana, from whom I was buying our goats. She had decided that the kid “cousin” I could take, in addition to Fiona and her mom Hazelnut, would be Buckbeak. “Bucky” was 1 of 2 goatlings born in the most recent, and final kidding of the spring at the Pieper’s farm. He was actually 1 of triplets, but the second buckling had been stillborn. Bucky and his sister Prim had had a rough start, confused with the bottle and struggling with sucking from the nipple. They had not been sure Bucky would make it at all, even though he was massive for a newborn. But the siblings had made a strong recovery and were reported to be feeding voraciously as of today. Buckbeak also had an impressive overbite which made his appearance rather… dorky, but also quite lovable. As the castration process would begin in another day or so via the rubber band method (I saw that grimace, boys!), his poor confirmation would never pass to another generation. He would, in fact, be passing through our lives for a short year only…. on his way to our freezer. I had hoped for Hazelnut and 2 doelings, as well as a meat buckling. But in all honesty, it could have sent me deep into overwhelm. I have two hands that can hold two bottles. Two kids to bottlefeed makes the most sense. I ran my sudsy hand through my hair absentmindedly, leaving some decidedly goat-like horns behind. Yes. I think I would take Buckbeak. Fiona needs a play mate. And I don’t need more than 2 milking does next year.

Hot from the stone - delicious!

The oven timer said 5 minutes until blastoff. I opened the porch door, which immediately tried to deck me with a blast of warm, springlike wind. I gave one of my famous, piercing whistles and signaled with a double-handed welcoming wave to the boys. Lunch was almost ready. Isla streaked through the dining room, leaving a bubble of wild cackling in her path. “Honey – I mean Gwendolyn! Put your clothes back on please. We’re about to eat.” I glance back out at the 2 Randys, laughing together as one climbed down from the ladder and the other unclipped his tool belt. It made me smile to see my husband and my X-boyfriend in such camaraderie. They were terrifically good friends and had a connection like no other. I was most definitely aware of how lucky I was to have them both in my life.

As the wind blew in the stubbly, dusty, joking men, I ladled out the steaming soup and plopped a dollop of sour cream on top of each helping. I sawed off hot slices of bread and slathered butter on each. The boys wiped their noses and beamed at their bowls. I tied a towel around the neck of my still naked child, sat daintily on my chair (well, I can try at least), and scooped a steaming, purple potato onto my spoon. Being a Domestic Diva really wasn’t so bad after all.

It might look like dishwater and chicken scraps in this photo, but it is actually divine!

And for a finish to the repast, 77% cacao chocolate, fresh strawberries and coffee.

No rest for the weary. After slacking over lunch, the men are back at it as our next winter storm rolls in. Here, the purlins are being set for the southern roof.

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