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!

It’s a Start


Oooooh I am so excited! Guess what I’m having in my coffee this morning? Okay, the picture above probably gave it away, but yes! I am having goat’s milk from our very own goat!

I know there’s only about 3/4 a cup there, but believe me, it is a victory.  I’m not even going to go into the year plus of effort and learning we’ve put into becoming dairy goat people before this day even arrived. The barn building, the loss of our first doe, the adventure in breeding and bringing little kids into the world, not to mention all that hay. You’ve already heard all that. I’m just going to start with what happened yesterday.

Gina (my goating partner) and I decided that yesterday was going to be milking day number one.  Although neither of us had ever milked a goat before, we’d watched youtube videos and read books and I hoped it would be at least a little bit like milking a cow, with which I had some experience. So we got Peaches up onto the milking stand, sweet feed in the bucket, our little stripping cup at the ready. Oh so giddy were we!

Then we tried to touch her udder, and it became clear that this was not going to be easy. In fact, it took about 30 second for us to start thinking it might actually be impossible.

Peaches is, um, how shall I say, a headstrong gal. She’s a her-way-or-the-highway kind of goat. We’ve all gotten along pretty well but then, we haven’t really asked her to do anything for us before. Now there we were, fondling her parts like the milking virgins that we were, and she was not having any of it. She tried all the moves: yanking her head out of the stanchion and trying to make a run for it, kicking, bucking (that one could’ve sent a person to the hospital if she’d made contact), and sitting right down on top of her udder, the bucket, and our hands. We couldn’t get one drop of milk out of her. Not one drop.

Luckily, we had an appointment later on to meet with a Nigerian Dwarf breeder nearby to see about buying one of her does – because three baby wethers and another two already in the barn does not a dairy herd make. This kind lady offered to give Gina and I a milking lesson, on two different does so that we could get a sense of how each doe’s udder is a little different.

The first thing we learned is that our Peach has what they call bad milking manners. Yeah, to put it lightly. This woman’s goats were literally clambering to get onto the stanchion to be milked. And once up there they enthusiastically participated in the milk-for-grain exchange that is the dairymaid’s bargain.  No squirming and definitely no kicking, just standing there calmly munching away. Wow! The first doe had lovely big teats that were easy to handle but had tiny orifices so she was slow to milk. The second doe had smaller teats and an udder attachment that wasn’t ideal, but her orifices were huge and the milk just gushed out. We got a feel for how to get those little goat teats filled with milk before  squeezing from the top down.  It was a great experience, and Gina and I felt a renewed hope that we would be able to get Peaches to get on the bandwagon.

(We also picked out a new little doe to join our herd, but I’ll save that for another post.)

So this morning we set out to try it again.  Back to the barn we went, with our milking kit and a mason jar chilling in a bucket of ice.  It took a minute to get our stubborn mule of a goat onto the stanchion and into position, but we did.  Sitting down on the stanchion right beside her with our shoulder against her haunches (something else we learned from our lesson) and we reached under and grabbed hold and then yes! That telltale sound of a stream of milk against the side of the pail! Huzzah!

It wasn’t all perfect from then on. Once the sweet feed was all gone, Peaches sat on our hands again, and fussed in the stanchion. But we got some milk! And even better, we got a sense that this is going to get easier, that we’re all going to get comfortable with this, and it won’t be a battle forever.

We strained the milk right there in barn and poured it into the ice cold jar and put the jar back in the icy water. Then I brought it into to my house and took my first sip of fresh goat’s milk. Yes, my first. Talk about a leap of faith, I’ve done all this work to have a dairy goat and never tasted fresh goat’s milk before, nutty. It was delicious! Sweet and rich and not ‘goaty’ at all, which was a relief and a delight. I love the goatiness of goat cheeses, but I wasn’t all that excited about goaty coffee in the morning or goaty cereal. But all the blogs and books and experts were right about chilling down the milk right away. It’s tastes just like cow’s milk, except fresher and a bit sweeter. Lovely!

So, start up the band and play the victory march, we have milk at last!

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.

Future Cozy

This is mostly wood that was green when we split it last year. Now it’s perfecto!

It’s that time of year. Even though temperatures have been hovering around the 90s for a the last few days, it is time to get ready for winter.  The fella and I have been busily replacing woodpecker-ravaged trim on the house, caulking the cracks in the siding, and rehabbing the water-damaged back door.

The tan colored vertical trim is new, not yet painted, and has replaced rotten old stuff that looked like Swiss cheese it had so many woodpecker holes in it!

On Friday my dad revved up the trusty Husqvarna and we set about bucking up a few fallen black oaks and loading up Sal the pickup.

Giant, perfectly seasoned black oak logs ready for the splitter.

We stacked the stove-ready logs on the remains of last year’s woodpile and dumped up the all the big mamma-jammas in the driveway to be split up a few weekends from now with a big, loud, stinky, and totally awesome hydraulic splitter. I read about folks who are getting back to simpler ways, using horses to haul logs out of the woods, and axes and their own brawn to render them to useable size.  All I can say to them is, good on ya! You’re hardier folk than I.  We only hauled firewood for a few hours (on a steep hill, in my defense) and I was whupped! I definitely need some toughening up, but for now I’m going to stick with my combustion engine friends the chainsaw, the truck, and the log splitter to help me keep cozy this winter.

Next on the list: cleaning out gutters and . . . ack! Painting the whole house!

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.

Forty Years On, Thanking the Elders (A Guest Post)

My godfather commented on my party post and it was so touching I decided it needed to be a post of its own. Thank you, Bueno!


Wayne (aka “Bueno”) in the middle, just about 40 years ago, when my house was being built.

Dear sweet Sara-

Just a reminder from your godfather….This is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Ranch in its current configuration….That is to say, the year your father and I agreed to stay, build homes together and raise our families here. We were  perched on the hill where your dome sits now, looking out on nothing but the black oak forest that surrounds us.  We were invited by his father, John, to come settle here. John represents the earlier generation, and of course it all goes back to his father…..The fact that you have taken on the mantle of not only throwing parties in the tradition we started (although ours of course usually lasted 5 days) but you have chosen to move back and have reinvigorated the Ranch with your energy and enthusiasm all makes my heart want to smile and explode at the same time….I look forward to this weekend, to the re-gathering of new and old friends, and I am reminded of when father John used to wander into our parties, have a beer. look out on the assembled folks and simply say, ” This is a good thing.”  I am excited about opening the festivities with geezer orientation and some visual slide show history for us to remember and reflect on.

Good show dahling!!!!