Thursday, December 13, 2012

Buffs Getting Buffer

The calves, they are a changin'--and fast! I'm wracking my brain trying to remember all the changes, big and small, that I have observed in them as they passed the 3-, 4-, and now 5-month mark. The switches at the end of their tails have turned from white to golden as expected. Their horns are getting longer and their bodies are getting wider. And taller. Much taller. In case you've forgotten (I know I had), let's review just how small they used to be:

Here they are at birth on 07/12/12 (Chuck, then Mabel):

By two months, they looked like this--taller but still narrow and little nubs for horns:

And now:

Mabel still has the sweetest face and her auburn hair is unique in the herd. Personality-wise she seems to be taking after her Aunt Audrey--very affectionate and gentle.

She tends to hang very close to the herd. Sometimes it's with Effie, her mom, sometimes Audrey, but frequently, she hangs with dad. Eschol is still a monumental pain in the rear for me but he has turned out to be really good with the calves.

It's hard to see her horns since they're swept back behind her luxurious locks. She has a fine head of what we refer to as "Elvis hair".  Here's a view from the back (down in front, Chuck!):

Then there's Chuck:

Longer horns going out to the side, a more serious (often mischievous) look on his face, and already he is showing some of the beefiness in his face that we associate with the bulls. Sadly, he is also turning out to be a little turd. He apparently has been observing Eschol closely and likes what he sees. It didn't take more than a couple of months before he decided that it was more fun to charge me while I mucked out the barn than eat his hay (my usual way to distract the herd so I can work). Fortunately, I'm still more clever than he is so I have avoided contact but I was hoping for more of a honeymoon period before I had to keep an eye out for two bulls. It's clear that at this stage, he's just having fun and testing his boundaries. He has learned that none of the females in his life are amused by his antics, so he mostly headbutts Eschol for practice. Eschol has moderated his return butts such that Chuck gets practice without getting annihilated. He doesn't let Chuck push him around, mind you, but he's more merciful than I would have expected. If Chuck gets too obnoxious, Eschol lets him know that it's time to go away and he does so in no uncertain terms.

At least Chuck hasn't broken my 300 gallon stock tank or ripped the boards off the front of the barn like his dad. I'm sure that is not far off in the future. He is already showing a more independent streak. He often wanders off from the herd and is fond of playing last-one-in-wins when I'm trying to cross them back in to their main pasture before night falls. We've had a few rounds of tug-of-calf. His horns are long enough to grab but these guys do not respond well to being led by the horns. So far, I've won but only because I can still bump him from behind hard enough to move him--much like they move each other along. That will not be the case for long. Bribery will become the only option.

In many ways, both Chuck and Mabel are acting like miniature versions of their parents and seem fully integrated into the daily rhythms of the herd. They started grazing like the adults within the first couple of months (and now that the grass is gone, they eat the hay I put down) but they have continued to nurse. I suspect that's tapering off now but I do still catch them nursing now and again. I'm thrilled that it has gone on this long.

Thanks to the rich milk, both Chuck and Mabel have put on a healthy layer of fat over their bones. That, plus a luxuriously thick coat of hair, means they should stay plenty warm this winter. And that's the news on our barnfull of buffalo.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


It felt good to exercise the old cooking muscles today. It's been a few years since we last had Thanksgiving at home and many, many months since we did any elaborate, pull-out-all-the-pots-and-jockey-for-pole-position-on-the-stovetop-style meals. The feast day got off to an auspicious start when I looked out the kitchen window to see our resident red-shouldered hawk perched on the limb of a walnut tree, enjoying his own fresh, local, organic Thanksgiving meal. Maybe not everyone's idea of a good start to the day but somehow it seemed fitting to me.

We took advantage of the 40-degree temperature swings that seem to have become the norm this fall and concentrated the cooking early in the day. Spending half the day cooking hearty autumnal foods seems like a good idea when it's 27 degrees at 7am. Not so much when it's 65 degrees at 3pm. So, in fine farm tradition, we had our dinner mid-day then got out to enjoy the beautiful weather.

The menu:
Kentucky Maple cocktails (bourbon, cider, maple syrup, ginger beer....)
Honey yeast rolls (served with a lovely 2008 vintage tulip poplar honey)

Tofurky with a praline mustard glaze and Tofurky gravy for the veg

Beef bourguignon for the meat

Stir-fried sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage

Celery root puree with toasted hazelnuts (yes, our own home-grown hazelnuts)

Brussels sprouts with maple syrup (my first-ever attempt at cooking Brussels sprouts and I must say they turned out rather well)

Sokol-Blosser Meditrina for the wine

And pears in pomegranate molasses for dessert

All this bounty, beautiful weather, time to play with the buffs, the love of friends and family, and the blessing of good health--we have much indeed for which we are thankful today.

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Autumnal Appreciation

Burley tobacco is drying in the barns
The corn has been harvested and the stalks turned to silage
A third cut of hay has been baled and still the dark green grass grows
Cascading down every mountain comes a torrent of color
Ruby red sourwoods nestling under the bullion gold of hickories
Plump orange sugar maples punctuating the landscape
Mushrooms of heroic proportions and cartoonish mien
Pop up in the barbed wire DMZ 'twixt field and woods
I come home from foraging feeling like a human chia pet
But covered in weed seeds exceeds noshed on by seed ticks

The long-range creek view has returned
And the insect repellent goes back to its winter cabinet
Along with the SPF 30 soon made redundant by fleecy layers
Cold beer on the deck at 5 gives way to hot tea by the fire at 4
For that last, brilliant ray of sun which streams through the ridges' gap
Illuminating a single tree at the end of the road
Soon withdraws its warm glow
How fortunate to have caught that fleeting moment
And how powerful the greedy desire for another and another.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Baked Goat Brie with Bourbon Peach Jam and Pecans

Now that the weather is finally cooling off, it no longer seems unreasonable to consider indulging in cooking something that requires turning on the oven. I've had something in mind ever since my friend Peggy sent me her fabulous Bourbon Peach Jam. Spectacular on its own (yeah, I confess to having eaten some just straight from the jar) and on pancakes, I had a hunch it would also work well with brie.

Time and excess mental capacity are in short supply at the moment but this dish is so ridiculously easy that I went for it. I grabbed a round of brie--any brie will do but my go-to brie if I'm going to doctor it up is a small round of goat brie from Trader Joe's--and a sheet of puff pastry. For some reason, there always seems to be an orphan sheet of puff pastry in the freezer. So, short story shorter....plop the brie onto the puff pastry (put some parchment paper in the bottom of a baking dish for easier extraction/clean-up later), cut the pastry down to size, slather on the jam, top with toasted pecans, and fold the ends of the pastry over the top, sealing in all the jammy, cheesy goodness.

Brush the top with a bit of beaten egg, sprinkle on a bit of brown sugar, and top with more pecans. Stick this in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes (longer if using a full-sized round of brie). If you are patient, you will get a nicely browned pastry with super gooey cheese inside. I'm not. I couldn't wait. Still wonderful if not quite as photogenic.

Grab your crackers and get on it. But be quick if you're sharing this with me. It won't last long. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

How Quickly It All Becomes Normal

Dare I say it? It's been very quiet around here. Not just on the blog but on the farm. The calves are now two months old. They are getting big. Filling out. Horns emerging. Tall enough to drink out of the big stock tank. Not as bouncy but still eager to lick a friendly hand, arm, or face. And still complete suckers for a neck or tummy rub. But at the same time, they're looking more like miniature versions of their parents. They move with the herd now. Rarely do I find them off by themselves. They are grazing like old pros but fortunately they continue to nurse as well. The more of that high butterfat milk they get in them before winter the better. And all that rain over the summer has meant really good grazing going in to the autumn months.

The biggest change is how normal it has become to have this herd of five water buffalo milling about. We have our routines. Some days, rare days thankfully, I don't see them at all. While those aren't good days for me, the buffalo seem to do just fine. Each of them seems healthy and, despite their disparate personalities, they are functioning well as a group. I'm surprised how often I find the calves hanging with (and sometimes messing with) Eschol who seems quite chill about them now. Even when Mabel tucks her head under his belly as if to give him grief for not coming equipped with an udder (I mean, c'mon, Dad, there are all these dangly bits--why not some that are useful to me???).

Fall tends to be a fallow time for the blog--not for lack of activity on the farm but for lack of time to write--so let me leave you with some pictures to tide you over 'til the next post.

Mabel tasting the black raspberry leaves.

Chuck and Mabel

Chuck with Audrey (standing) & Effie

Chuck's little horns starting to emerge

Mabel a.k.a., Miss Muddy Hooves

Chuck charging out of the wallow

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ouch! But so worth it.

And now for something completely different: the honey harvest. Back in June, I took off two supers of honey from my one remaining colony. A couple of hard winters and some sketchy nectar flows meant that for several years I had been leaving all honey with the bees to ensure their ability to survive and rebuild their numbers. So, it was wonderful this year to see so much extra honey after the Tulip Poplar flow (the primary nectar flow in this region) that I felt safe harvesting.

I felt a lot of other things after harvesting. Mostly sore. No, not from bee stings. The bees aren't happy when I take the honey but I wear the requisite space suit so I don't blow up like a balloon (yes, I'm a little oversensitive to stings) and they don't have to die. Really, the most painful part of this process is getting the supers off of the hive. The honey supers are at the top, really heavy when full of honey, and stuck together with propolis. So, picture trying to pry apart wooden boxes weighing c. 40 pounds, sealed all around with the stickiest, gooiest resin-like substance that re-sticks as soon as the pieces make contact again, and then lifting the boxes from chest height all while angry bees try to find any weakness in your protective gear. Below is a typical shallow super with a wooden bee escape on top.

Mind you, lifting 40 pounds off the ground or from waist height is no problem for me but I never really learned to bench press. I can see now why that might have been useful. Very different endeavor. Add in the twist that I have to do to get the supers in to the cart for transporting back to the house and the scene just begs for a pulled back muscle. Yeah. Ouch. Not smart. Must design a better set-up for next year. But a little pain is a small price to pay for such glorious goodness. The girls had built the comb way out past the edges of the frames and it just looked and smelled so wonderful. After getting the last few bees out of there, I moved the supers inside and in no time the odor of honey and beeswax filled the house.

One thing I did right this year was invest in an extractor. I'm now the proud owner of a 9-frame, hand-cranked, radial extractor. This bad boy flings the honey out of the comb with the greatest of ease.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before the spinning, there's uncapping to be done. First, pry the frames apart. Yes, more propolis. Much more propolis. Healthy for the hive. Hell on the beekeeper.

I take each frame and use a hot uncapping knife to gently cut the caps off of both sides of the comb. This handy double tub setup catches the cappings in the top level while letting any stray honey drip through to the lower level for later capture.

There's a real art to cutting off the cappings. Too slow and you cook the honey. Too fast and you miss too many cells. Get the angle wrong and you gouge the comb. But not unlike finding the clutch point on a stick shift car, after a few ugly attempts, it becomes second nature. I know I'm not the only beekeeper who plays the can-I-get-the-whole-run-of-cappings-in-one-continuous-sheet game (very much like trying to peel an apple). Nine frames done and we're ready to spin. Well, close the lid, then we're ready.

In just a few moments, the first drops hit the strainer.

Soon honey is gushing through the gate.

After extracting two supers, we bottled 60 pounds of honey from that first harvest. This past weekend, we extracted another super for 27 pounds more. We had hoped the second harvest might be heavy on the Sourwood (our second biggest nectar flow and the most popular honey with the tourists) but judging from the color and taste, I'd say it's much like the first--primarily Tulip Poplar (my favorite) with an assortment of wildflowers. At any rate, we are set for honey for a good long time. Sweet!