Cheese and Honey and Beer and Everything!

Gah! I just cannot seem to get my blog on lately. Things have been bumpin around the Domestead, but it’s not like I’ve been so busy I couldn’t spare a moment to write about it. Just not feeling like writing I guess.

But that’s just nuts, because here I am, with so many of the goals and dreams I have been working towards for so long finally coming to life! And I’m just like, meh. I also haven’t been taking many pictures, which is the very most effective way for a blogger to self-sabotage, because a post without pictures just hardly seems worth the trouble.  Sad really, because I started the blog more as a record for myself of all the progress I’ve made on my different projects and schemes.  It’s a nice place to visit and reflect on where I started and where I am now.

So stop being such a lazy schmo and write a damn post, lady!

Okay, here goes:


*doing the cheese dance* (very sexy)

Wonderful delicious chevre!

Wonderful delicious chevre!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

The last ball of my second batch of fresh mozzarella. Hard to keep on hand during tomato season!

So far we’ve made mozzarella and chevre and both are just so so good it hurts.  Roomie Paul’s ultra homemade margherita pizza with fresh from the garden tomato sauce, basil right off the front porch, and our own goat’s milk mozz? Yes please! Or would you prefer the flatbread with garlic and herb olive oil, shaved summer squash and whole padron peppers from the garden, and homemade chevre? Umm…are you kidding me?

*more cheese dancing*

Peaches and our new doe Lily are producing about 2 quarts a day, although we’re trying to dry off Lily because we’re hoping she’s prego.  Kind of too bad as Lily is a dream to milk, the only hard thing being getting her off the milking stand once we’re done.  Peaches has finally settled into a much less violent milkstand routine, thank goodness.  I think she didn’t like sharing her babies’ milk with the humans.  She found it offensive and wrong (regardless of how much grain and adoration we plied her with).  But now the babies are gone and Lily is here and things are working well. We haven’t had to buy milk for weeks! Our 3 little wethers all found wonderful families to live with, and although it was sad to see our little buddies go, we have plenty of baby goats in our future. Which makes it a very bright future indeed. And cheese!

Look at all that milk! And we're splitting between two households, so that's just half a week's worth. Cheerios anyone?

Look at all that milk! And we’re splitting between two households, so that’s just half a week’s worth. Cheerios anyone?

My bees are going gangbusters right now which is so good to see. We harvested one frame from them and after one million years (I’m pretty sure) of straining the crushed up honeycomb, we now have a very cute amount of dark, delicious Ranch honey! Yay! And I only got honey all over myself like 5 or 6 times throughout the process, so hey, lookin good.

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Cute amount of honey. And credit to sister for the adorable little honeypot!

Next up: the Fella and the Pa have become brewing buddies! They currently have a batch of IPA fermenting in the bottles and 5 gallons of honey porter (YUMMEH) to get started this weekend. Unfortunately 5 gallons of honey porter requires significantly more than a cute amount of honey, so they might have to be un-homesteadly and go retail for that part of the recipe.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

American IPA, currently hiding out in the dark waiting for the big reveal in two weeks.

And other stuff, like I won my case in the California Supreme Court and was in the newspaper and got interviewed on the radio and everything (still waiting on the paycheck though…anyday now guys…for real). And we’re almost finished redoing one of our bathrooms, taking out the junky vinyl and putting in real tile and all that jazz.

Phew! So that’s a pretty comprehensive update. I won’t be a phony and promise more regular posting, but I will say that I will try.  Adieu for now!

What Have I Got to Say For Myself?

I am acutely aware that I haven’t posted in a while.  The thing of it is, this blog started out as a sort of social outlet, a conversation if you will, about my daily life and my dreams for the future.  It was a way to keep my momentum going.  But I was single then.  It seems terrifically unoriginal, disappointing even, that I feel less inclined to blog now that I have a in-person human partner to share things with.  “Sara got a boyfriend and now she never hangs out with us anymore. So lame.” But it’s true.  I’m not really the type that loves to just talk about myself all the time, so it’s a bit hard to muster up the inspiration to do so when I feel like I’ve been sharing everything with someone all day long already.

On the one hand, I am happy to trade a blogging life for a love life.  Fun as it is to post pictures of my adventures on the internet and receive feedback from this growing community of people both familiar and strange, it’s even better to carry in the firewood and draw up the chicken tractor plans with a real live person.  On the other hand, I don’t think blogging and having a partner are mutually exclusive.  Plenty of other people do it, after all.  I may no longer be able to call myself “a single girl” going back to the land, but the overall mission is still the same.

The truth is, I might not post as often, but there will still be plenty of plans and schemes to share.  Before and after pictures to boast about.  Even some moments to wax rhapsodic now and then.

So with that in mind, allow me to fill you in on the latest Domestead news!

1. We are observing Sober January. Between the Fella and the Roomie and I, we have been known to put away the ale faster than a Shire-full of hobbits.  This merry-making naturally crescendos to a bit of a frenzy during the holidays, and by New Year we’re all a little worse for the wear and in need of some rest and, well, detoxification.  Last year Paul and I were alcohol-free for all of January and it was such a good thing there was no doubt we would observe Sober January again this year. The Fella is on board, as are the rest of the Ranch Folk.

2. We will break our alcohol fast with our own home-made beer! The Fella and I are totally committed to reducing costs and adding creativity by making our own brews.  We won’t break the fast until the beer is ready, and, if I have my way, we won’t be buying beer at all 2013 (okay, except maybe for special occasions.) Turns out my Pa is into the idea as well, so we may have a little Ranch brewery bubbling along in the not too distant future.

3. Peaches is getting bred this month! That means little goaties and goat milk (finally!) by June. Very exciting to know this project will be moving forward after stalling slightly due to my lack of funds.

4. The winter garden is chugging along. It’s been COLD. But the layer of straw on the beds has kept everything – kale, beets, peas, onions, garlic, chard – alive. We harvested the mature kale plants heavily for New Year’s dinner, but they are super resilient and are already sprouting new leaves. God I love kale.

5. We are getting about 1 egg a day from the hens. They are smaller than the eggs Flora and Fauna used to lay. I think the old girls have officially retired. The new layers are the two Barred Rocks I got as pullets this summer.  The one lone Ameraucana still hasn’t started laying, but maybe she’ll start now that the days are getting longer (it’s still awfully cold though, she might wait until spring).

6. The bees, sadly, didn’t make it. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about that for a while, but the rain kept me from checking. Well, the rain and my dread about facing it.  I’m not sure yet what happened. I feel like I stopped feeding them before I should have. I was confused by conflicting sources of information (i.e., my instructor said ‘don’t feed in winter,’ but did he mean winter as in ‘when it gets cold,’ or winter as in ‘the specific season before spring’?; the organic beekeeping lady said it was wrong and unhealthy to feed bees sugar; the wild bees by my uncle’s house are thriving; etc. etc.). They also could have had varroa, although I hadn’t spotted any when I tested them, and was told that new colonies are usually fine the first year. Sigh. An expensive undertaking that I have to start over with. But I definitely want to try again. Hopefully I’ll be able to reuse the hives and frames (depends on what killed them off.)

7. Haven’t been riding in a long while, although I pass by old Hammer on my walks to the river. He’s just as cheerful yet wizened as ever.  That is definitely something I need to put some effort into this year. No more slacking on riding!

So that’s the long and short of it. Some good, some bad. Such is life on the Domestead.

Spilling Over

Photo by Gina Jensen-Hill

Photo by Gina Jensen-Hill

The creek flooded over the road this weekend, and all I can feel is my heart spilling over with joy. Funny how things happen.

As the first of a series of three epic rainstorms bore down on us, wind and water swishing around the Dome like waves against a wooden ship, the fella and I, snug under the covers, added the fate of the road to our list of worries.

Down in the hollow, our dirt road crosses a creek with a little culvert bridge.  The culvert drain pipe is several feet across, and has generally managed winter high-water quite well. But the rain was coming down hard, unrelenting, and things were only supposed to get wetter.

Fixing the spot in the chicken run where the neighbor-dog keeps breaking in; making sure we have enough wood for the winter; figuring out the intermittent leak in the roof; rewiring the porch light; getting the bills paid… If you can’t even get down your driveway then how can you start to address all these other things?

The next morning, rain still sheeting down, the fella called from the car on his way to work. You’d better go take a look at the road, he said. The creek is about to crest. I took a shovel and headed out. The shovel got used along the way, to redirect some of the little rivers of water carving across the surface of the road back to the drainage ditch.  Running water seeks the easiest route downhill, make the right way easier, and the water will comply.  But by the time I got down to the creek, it was clear my shovel was no match for what was happening. The culvert wasn’t clogged up with leaves or branches, there was simply too much water rushing through it. It surged and eddied on the upstream side of the bridge, backing up against the earth on either side of the drain.

It’s always a wonder, how the seasons express themselves here in the foothills. How can it be that I stand, shovel in hand, mud sucking onto my boots, deafened by the rushing water about to overtake me, when a few short months ago the long days of sun had rendered this same land dry, dusty, and cracked, radiating heat in shiny ripples?  How incredible is it to press your hand into a cushion of cool, thick green moss on a rock that in summertime would almost be too hot to touch.

And the rain kept coming, and the water rose higher. We fretted more about the road. The powerlessness to save it, the lack of money to fix it, the inevitable shifting – again – of priorities from one urgent project (splitting more firewood) to another (road repair). Does it ever stop? Or are we now, quite literally, drowning?

And then it happened. The water spilled over, the bridge was crested, the road went under. There was nothing to do but wait for it to subside. And so we did. And knowing that the storm was to pass by Sunday afternoon, the fella and I planned a long overdue outing in town. A gamble, should there be no road left to take us to civilization. But just the kind of optimistic thing you have to do after 4 days stuck inside worrying.

And guess what? The bridge survived. A little worse for wear, and in need of some maintenance, but it survived. And the fella and I went to town, and talked about Christmas, and how to make mustard, and ate a hamburger, and held hands. That night he built a fire in the stove while I folded laundry, we watched a movie and then listened to the frogs singing through the barely-open window.  This morning we kissed goodbye for the day – him off to his new job and me off to my office in town.

The creek flooded over the road this weekend, and my heart is spilling over with joy. Because I could be doing this alone, but I don’t have to anymore.

Because everything’s going to be alright.

In the Freezer

I belong to a local agricultural listserve, where farmers and gardeners of all stripes post about things like late season u-pick tomatoes, kid-friendly farm tours, medicinal herb workshops, and the inevitable free-to-anyone-who-dares renegade roosters.  I doubt I’ll ever post anything on there myself, being as I’m not a real farmer, but the daily emails from those folks nearby who are truly living the life are an inspiration. Plus I might want a rooster someday.

A few days ago I got an email from a local family who raises grass fed beef. I’ve had it before and it’s outstanding. The email was promoting a special designed for people who, like me, want to head into winter with a freezer full of provisions, can’t afford to pay retail, but haven’t (yet) upgraded to a humongous chest freezer big enough to fit a side of beef. In other words, bulk rate for slightly less bulk. Perfect! They had several different packages to choose from. After conferring with the fella and the roomie about splitting the deal three ways, I decided to stick with roasts, stew meat, and hamburger, feeling like these made more sense for the freezer than a smaller amount of fancier cuts like rib-eyes and T-bones.

This morning we bundled up and headed out to the grower’s market to pick up our order. 16 pounds of locally raised grass fed beef! I felt like a kid at Christmas staring into that great big bag.  We also picked up a few lamb chops from another farmer braving the cold under her little easy-up. Their lamb is absolutely divine as well (Chez Panisse uses it!). I felt a little guilty passing by the handful of shivering growers. Although their tables were piled with lovely beets, kale, chard, squash and the like, we were there for meat!

It feels gratifying to buy meat from the farmer that raised it, knowing that my omnivorous diet includes – and supports – humane and sustainable practices in my own community. While it may be considered a luxury to some, I am committed to making it a routine.  It’s easy and affordable enough, living where I do, that I really have no excuse. It’s also gratifying to look in the freezer and see neat packages of my own garden veggies, homemade pesto and tomato paste, and home-dried fruit nestled next to a winter’s worth of local steer and lamb.  There is a bounty in my freezer today, and as we build a fire with wood from our own forest, I pause to thank the land, the animals, and the farmers for everything.

Fair Play

Favorite Four-Year-Old checking out a mama hen and baby chick.

For us locals, the Nevada County Fair is a big deal.  There aren’t many opportunities for the entire community to get together at one event, to see and be seen, to share talents, eccentricities, passions, and corn dogs. So when the fair rolls around, the little lanes of our lovely Ponderosa-shaded fairgrounds hustle and bustle like a New York City sidewalk.

With a lot more mullets, of course.

Naturally there are the standard midway rides and hucksters and cotton candy carts, but the real soul of the fair is the agriculture. Equestrian demonstrations, poultry breed exhibits, beekeepers, 4-H market auctions, and ribbons for the best Beefsteak tomato. This year, while Gina was giving a presentation about butterfly gardens for the Nevada County Master Gardeners, I was helping my friends at MiniRidgeTop Farms show their Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  It’s been in the 100s around here, so it was hot and sweaty, but still tons of fun. Maybe next year Henge and Hollow Farm will be there with our own little does to show!

Little Nigies in the show ring.

Fair veggies.

A Quiet Life

I live a quiet life, and I like it. However, into every quiet life a little noise must come, and I like that too. The annual Ranch Party brought some welcome noise to this homestead, along with happy faces of dear friends too seldom seen, kegs of local ales, belly-flops, original tunes, spicy sausages, spirit animals, decorated tents, puppet shows, cocktails served in mason jars, two gorillas and a bigfoot, latenight grilled cheese, movies on the lawn, and an actual choreographed dance routine.  A spontaneous cornucopia of melons, garden tomatoes, peppers of all sorts, squash, lemons, and limes sprouted on the kitchen counter, a mountain of manna communally added to and taken from over the course of the weekend.  There was a professional tea and coffee service set up under a canopy each morning, complete with lessons on how to appreciate one’s tea leaves.  Guitars and amps and mics and cords from various owners were expertly set up and, after everyone had a chance to perform on the twinkly Hootenanny stage, were quickly and efficiently put away again. We ate like royalty and partied like it was 1999.

And then it was over. It felt like a heartbeat and a lifetime all at once.  A few beers floating in warm dirty water, dusty feet, packing up the tents, waiving goodbye, trips to the airport, mopping floors, taking down lights. Sitting in quiet.

I take it as a good sign that this party has grown from a simple weekend shindig to a Thursday through Monday extravaganza.  Once upon a time these people didn’t know each other, and now we’re all family, witnessing graduations, weddings, births, new careers, first homes, milestone birthdays, and the hard stuff along the way.  We love each other.  Enough to make the world a better place.  I say this without irony or smugness: with all the violence and hatred and backwardness out there, sometimes there’s only one thing you can do to restore your faith in humanity.

Throw a party.