This was the most dramatic northern-lights display I saw in Alaska. It happened on Valentines day 2012. The kids and I spent almost an hour outside at 30+ below zero watching this because it was so beautiful.
Can’t sleep tonight, so I’ll upload a few older pictures from the time-frame when we weren’t updating the blog. These are from when Isaac and Sydney tested for Green-Belt in Tae Kwan Do. The instructor frequently had them spar each other until Sydney learned to fight back instead of just try to run away from her little brother.
Nippa, the milk machine, generally produces almost exactly the amount of milk we tend to drink every day as a family. However, when one or more of us aren’t here, the milk can begin to pile up in the fridge. Recently I spent several days out of town for work, and Sydney had spent a week at summer church camp. That translated into a couple gallons that were threatening to go bad if we didn’t do something useful with them. To add to the problem, Liz had bought a half-gallon of cream from the dairy down the street, but had only used about half of it making Ice Cream and Creamy Tomato Soup.
Liz has been meaning to try making cheese for quite a while, and had even bought the rennet to do it with. However, circumstances never aligned until this last Monday. We decided to make cheese and butter for “Family Night.” The kids each got a mason jar half-full of cream to shake while I used the opportunity to teach the science of cheese making (yes science… I’m quite the geek). In the end, we ended up with a delicious ball of fresh mozzarella, ricotta, and braunkase (reduced carmelized whey). All of it tasty and none of it from the store. Nothing went to waste.
Just as luck would have it, we had run out of butter that day, and the butter we made got us through until the next in-town shopping trip where we could re-stock on grass-fed organic butter (man… that makes me sound like an uppity food snob, but there are good reasons for it).
Liz has never really liked the idea of an “inside dog,” coyotes were wreaking havoc on our chickens, and we were planning on going on a family vacation for two weeks and leaving the Dog outside to “protect” the other animals and to make it much easier on the family who was going to be feeding and watering the animals. The dog would need somewhere to get out of the weather. Because the barn is behind the back pasture fence and I don’t like the idea of the dog hanging out in the chicken coop I decided the best option would be to knock together a doghouse out of scrap lumber in the (vain) hope that he would use it.
As far as the dog goes, it was a wasted effort. According to our friend who was feeding and watering him, Mr Thornton spent his time hiding in the shade under my truck, and I can’t see any evidence that he has been in there. Since we got home, he’s insisted that he belongs inside with us, and I think we’ve given up on trying to convince him he lives outside. On the up-side, the boys had fun painting it to match the barn and coop, and the one turkey the coyotes didn’t get while we were out of town has decided it makes a decent roost, and he spends the night on top of if after the chickens he’s adopted as his flock go in for the night.
As for Thornton protecting the other animals, ALL of the chickens survived the coyote raids. Only the turkeys (who were in the back pasture where Thornton couldn’t go) were picked off. Apparently a coyote had managed to get through the electric fence, grabbed a turkey to take back to the den, then dropped it on the wires when he got shocked by the fence. The dead turkey shorted out the fence and opened up a hole that made it easier for the coyotes to get in and out over the next few days to pick off most of the rest of the birds. You could see where Thornton had been scratching and digging at the fence and gate to get to the back pasture. I suspect he was trying to go after the coyotes, because he doesn’t bother any of our animals.
In the end, I don’t mind the lost turkeys. I’m tired of scraping and spraying poop off the porch and listening to the constant noise. The one bird that’s left is noisier than our rooster and leaves more messes on the porch than all 15 of the chickens combined. Now that he’s the only one he spends his time with the chickens, and without a flock to keep him company I can’t keep him in the back field where I wouldn’t mind the mess and noise. If this one makes it to Thanksgiving I’ll be surprised.
I love bread. However, with the nutrition approach Liz has adopted you’re supposed to soak all grains overnight in an acidic liquid before consuming/cooking them to break down phytic acid. The conventional (if you can call it that) method is to add a few tablespoons of cultured whey to act as a starter and get lacto-fermentation going to generate the acid. However, I don’t like the flavor the whey adds. To make it worse, most of my recipes for homemade bread don’t include an overnight soak/rise.
Sourdough, on the other hand, essentially is an overnight soak because it can take all night to rise depending on your starter. Unfortunately, I’ve not had great success getting sourdough to produce the results I wanted without cheating and adding commercial yeast, mostly because I tend to let the starter go too long between uses.
However, I’ve found an alternative that seems to work very well for me. In an attempt to break myself of the Diet Coke habit, I started brewing “water kefir,” aka “tibicos” – a fizzy pro-biotic drink brewed with a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) kind of like kombuscha but using a different starter culture and sugar water instead of tea. The end result of the brewing is a mildly acidic liquid rich in lacto-bacteria and yeasts like a sour-dough starter, but with more pleasant flavors and more than one use (I like to drink it straight, kinda like a carbonated unsweetened or lightly sweetened lemonade). Because I use it as a regular drink, I haven’t had trouble with killing it from lack of use, and I pretty much always have a bottle or two in the fridge.
Now for the recipe… Start the recipe the day before you want the bread. The rise-time for me always seems to take at least 8 hours, and most of the time it’s more like 18.
- 4 C Water Kefir
- 1 Tbs unrefined sea salt (should be gray or pink)
- 3 eggs (pasture raised in your back yard if possible)
- 1/2 C melted butter (from grass-fed cows if possible)
- 1/2 C malted wheat flour, 1/4 C maple syrup or 1/4 C rapadura sugar (optional)
- 9-12 C fresh-ground whole-wheat flour
Start with cold Kefir and mix in the sugar and salt. Melt the butter and whisk in the eggs until well mixed and add the eggs and butter to the Kefir. Add about half the flour and stir until smooth, then add the remaining flour (more if needed) and knead to make a moderately stiff dough (I do it by hand because I got tired of repairing stripped out gears in my KitchenAid, but a machine works well if you don’t abuse it like I tend to).
Once the dough is smooth and stretchy, shape it into 2 or 3 loaves and plop them into bread pans greased with lard, tallow, or butter (I don’t like any form of highly processed vegetable oil, and butter tastes better anyway). Grease the top of the loaves with butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap leaving the cover loose enough to let the bread rise and let sit at room temperature overnight. If by morning the dough isn’t rising, place the loaves somewhere warm (I use my dehydrator set to about 100F) until they have doubled (anywhere from 1-6 hours). If they still haven’t risen, you have a choice to make. You can either bake them anyway and eat fairly heavy but delicious bread (what I usually do) or wait for the yeasts to finally take off. They will eventually, and with the acid in the Kefir, you don’t have to worry much about putrifying bacteria and the like. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom of the loaf. Let it rest on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, cut off a thick slice, smear thickly with butter, and enjoy!
Water Kefir: look it up via your favorite search provider. There are several places that describe it and how to obtain a culture and brew it. I’ll eventually post something about how I make it, but no promises when. Sometimes I add fruit juice or pulp to the kefir to flavor it, and that adds a unique and generally pleasant flavor to the bread.
Unrefined Sea Salt: I use Celtic Sea Salt because I understand that it retains all of the minerals found in the seawater used to make it and that it is an excellent source of trace minerals. I suppose any kind of salt would work if that is what you have.
Pasture-Raised Eggs: Eggs from pasture-raised chickens have dark yolks and firm whites. I believe they contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals (particularly fat-soluble ones like A, D, and K2) than the eggs produced by factory-farm raised chickens, and know they taste better either way. If you don’t have chickens in your back yard, I feel sorry for you.
Butter (from grass-fed animals in particular): Butter is one of the best sources of vitamin K2 (as long as the animals making the milk are eating stuff containing chlorophyl), a substance that science is only just beginning to understand, but Winston Price without knowing what to call it tied it to strong teeth and excellent health including immunity from tooth decay and heart disease. Furthermore, I don’t buy the saturated fat and cholesterol scare tactics employed by modern medical practitioners. Their low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-taste diet seems to have gotten us worse off than our ancestors were on a high-fat nutrient rich naturally grown diet. See for example www.westonaprice.org. The research is quite interesting. Avoid margarine and other processed vegetable oils like the plague.
Malted Wheat Flour: I make my own by sprouting wheat berries until the baby-plant (not the furry rootlets, but the thing that will be grass if you let it grow much more) is about as long as the grain, throwing them in my dehydrator for a while at temps below 115F until they are crispy and sweet, then grinding them into flour. it adds a sweet, nutty flavor, and provides sugars for the yeast to digest.