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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Too good to be true

Glorious fall is here. We are bustling around like bears getting ready for hibernation, or squirrels frantically stashing away food for winter. We are harvesting, putting food by, canning like mad. There is the beautiful garlic and onion harvest to be cured. The Sauerkraut is done fermenting and has to be put in jars. Plums and apples need to be picked from the trees. Grapes and kiwis are ripening. Winter squashes are almost ready. The kids stroll in the garden to investigate what food can be snacked on. And I'm making Steve's favorite: Caraway Gouda.  (By the way, I have two more spots left in my Gouda cheese making class this Saturday, Sept 20.)

And then, as every fall, there is the dreaded chicken slaughtering.  I say dreaded because it's not fun.  It's gnarly and sad and messy.  But the reward for eating our own chickens that we raised ourselves are immense.  (I wrote about it here and here.)  This year we set a record in terms of time and efficiency: It took us only three and a half hours to process 45 chickens from start to finish.  The team: Steve, neighbor Rich, friend Greg, our sons Kai and Luke, and me.  Go team!  We rent equipment (a chicken plucker and cooling tank) six months ahead of time, so the day is set in stone.  It's a miracle that every single year at chicken slaughter time, the weather is gorgeous.  
I took lots of great pictures, but they are tiny bit gory and bloody and stuff, so I'll spare you the sight.  Here's one of neighbor Rich refreshing Kai's memory on how to cut open a chicken and deal with the guts.  And below is Rich's dog, who is very excited to help when slaughter time comes around.  Don't worry, she doesn't kill the chickens, but she does like lapping up any blood that happens to drip.

When everything is over, I grab the chicken livers and make liver pate.  It is marvelous, and I am heartbroken that I am the only member of my family to adore it.  How could you not like something that involves sauteed onions, garlic, a whole stick of butter, thyme from the garden, a splash of Brandy, and chicken livers soaked in milk?

Talking of food: our family has gotten obsessed with juicing.  With all that wonderful produce in the garden, what else is there to do?  After milking the goats in the morning, I wander into the garden to pick beets, carrots, kale, swiss chard and collards.  Then I come back inside and juice the heck out of everything.  It makes the most colorfulful, nutritious juice you can imagine.  The kids love to help with juicing and drinking it!

Even with all this activity going on, Steve and I managed to get a way for a day long bike ride this week.  We rode over 30 miles along the Skagit and Sauk rivers, blissing out on each other's company, the sunshine, and the gorgeous views of Mount Baker.  Our friend, who took care of the kids, welcomed us back with home made pizza.  Sometimes I think our lives are too good to be true.

I will leave you with images of two of our kids.  Luke on his way to his first solo-overnight camp out in the woods (which will be a separate blog entry one of these days), and Eva playing with flowers in the vegetable garden.  Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Our amazing rite of passage

A few days ago, our family of five embarked on an adventure that will stay with us forever.  It's the first time we ever did this, all five of us together.  Mostly it's Eva's fault that we haven't done it before, since she was too little for such a thing.  But now, we did it!  A rite of passage successfully survived and enjoyed: a backpacking trip, sleeping on a high mountain top, bonding as a family over sweat and sore muscles and incredible vistas.  Meet the Sahlin's at Mount Baker:

The hike is called Heliptrope Ridge, and there are two options: either hike up to Coleman Glacier, or head on up the route climbers use as a base camp to climb Mount Baker.  The second option is gnarly, especially for a four-year-old.  But Eva did it!  Amidst wildflowers and views of the vast, dramatic ice fields of Coleman Glacier, we ascended the ridge, panting, sweating, ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing, laughing, sulking, encouraging each other.  It was so worth the effort!

We made it to base camp just in time for dinner.  When you hike with three children, it's mind blowing how much food you have to pack.  Food offers a huge bribe factor, and we used it shamelessly.  
"If you hike a little longer, you'll get a chocolate bar, Eva."
"Just a few more minutes, and you guys can eat all the dried mangoes."
In my case, the bribe involved knitting.
"Just a few more steps, and I can sit down and knit."
Here's our camp spot, looking up at Mount Baker.

One of my favorite memories of this trip was Eva, standing at the edge of a cliff, singing her heart out to the mountains.  The sun got lower on the horizon, and this girl stood and sang.  We put on our coats, because it got chilly fast, and still Eva sang.  We brushed our teeth while the sky changed slowly.  We wrapped our sleeping bags around ourselves against the wind and cold.  While the sky turned redder and redder, we stood and marveled, and my heart felt so full and happy, I could have wept.  Later, we watched the full moon come up over Mount Baker.  Could it have been more magical?

Eva and I slept in the tent, Steve and the boys slept outside within a windbreak they made with rocks.  It was the worst sleeping-in-a-tent experience I ever had.  All night long, the wind battered the tent, making a huge ruckus, even lifting up the tent, the sides of it slapping my face and feet.  Eva woke up every hour, restless and scared by the noise.  I couldn't wait for the morning to escape this nightmare.  And morning came.  Lukas snuggled in the tent with Eva for a while, we got breakfast going, and then decided to descend to find some sunshine.
On the way down, we stopped at Coleman Glacier.  It's impossible to describe its beauty and grandeur with words, so I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

We spent the rest of the day descending back down the mountain, and once safely in our van, drove to Artist Point, where we hiked around some more and tried to take pictures of Mount Shuksan, which was hiding in the clouds.  That night, we camped near the town of Glacier, so we wouldn't have to drive all the way back home and back again for the boys' homeschool program in Deming, which is quite close to Glacier.  We are getting our hiking yaya's out!  And I haven't even told you about my other hike with Eva and her little best friend.  I'll leave that for another blog post so I don't overwhelm you with pictures!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A new idea - what do you think?

I am not an expert on anything, but I do know stuff.  And I love to share what I know.  Some people have noticed that I know some stuff, and they ask me to teach them.  One of the coolest examples is a mother and daughter pair who participated in my cheese making class a year ago.  They came to my little farm, learned how to crank out a good Gouda, got to eat a lot of different cheeses I made, met the goats, and toured my veggie garden.  A few months ago, the 14 year old daughter e-mailed me to ask if she could come for a weekend and help me out with any chores I need to have done, and in the meantime, she could learn stuff from me.
No, I thought immediately, I don't need someone trailing behind me, being in the way, and needing to be taught how to do everything that I could do so much faster.  Do you see what a control freak I am? I didn't tell her how I felt, but she must have sensed it because she wrote back that she would do ANY chores I wanted her to, plus she would bring her own lunch, and she would camp at a campground with her mother.  
Hmmmm..., I thought, that sounds pretty good.  I kept procrastinating on my decision, until I heard back from her again, saying that she would understand if I didn't want her to come, but if I decided it was okay, she would be very excited.
I loved her gentle persistence, and anyhow, how could I resist the idea of mentoring such an eager young woman?  So Anna spent the past weekend with me, learning how to pickle, can, make sauerkraut, practice milking goats, trim their hooves, clean out the goat shed, bake bread, and weed the garden.  She was an absolute joy and tirelessly worked harder than an adult would have!
Here is Anna picking cucumbers for making bread and butter pickles, and beans for dilly beans, and me holding freshly harvested Walla Walla onions:

The first day, we made four gallons of bread and butter pickles.  We also made two gallons of dilly beans.
After lunch, I showed her how to trim goats' hooves.
Afterwards, she helped Steve muck out the goat barn.  Then it started raining.  Anna wanted to go out to weed the garden.
"Are you sure you want do weed the garden in the rain?" I asked.  
"Yes!  It's not too bad", she replied.
So we weeded the garden in the rain, which is a good plan because the weeds come out easier that way. 
In the evening, Anna milked the goats like a pro.  I was very, very, very impressed.

This is Anna's happy victory dance!  We did it!

On the schedule the  next day: make sauerkraut.  We harvested cabbage from my garden, and then spent the morning making it into kraut.  If you want to know how to do it, here is a tutorial on my blog.  Again, Anna had a smile on her face the whole time.  We made 35 pounds of sauerkraut, which is currently gently fermenting and bubbling in my kitchen, exuding an interesting aroma into our abode.
After a lunch of homemade bread (I showed Anna how to make it the day before), goat cheese, and tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, we made goat milk soap.

A productive weekend, ey?  Anna and her mother were very appreciative of the experience.  And I really loved teaching this amazing young woman how to be more self sufficient and take care of the earth and animals.
So here is my idea: Why not create an apprenticeship program and offer it to the world at large?  A weekend just like the one we just had, with lots of skills learned and practiced.
Anna and her mom told me that a two hour canning class in Seattle costs $75.  Seventy-five dollars!!!!!!!  I could offer my two day event for an amazingly great deal, and people would go home with their own canned pickles, bread, and soap.
What do you think of this idea?  I am looking for ideas about where to market something like this, and how much to charge, so if you have any ideas or feedback, please let me know!