Thursday, February 28, 2013

Buff videos

OK, let's see what kind of traffic gets driven to the blog with buff videos on offer. So far, snake poop has far outstripped all other posts. Snake posts in general seem quite popular so take note, food bloggers, if you are looking to increase the number of hits on your site. Not much to say other than that I've been collecting cute video clips of the calves doing their thing. So, without further ado, here are a few little bursts of buff fun.

Mabel was feeling feisty:

Chuck demonstrated why practice pays off in the headbutting department:

Playing is thirsty work. Time for some udder bumping:

Chuck and his milk mustache:

Mabel says, "hi."

Sweet (Mabel) and salty (me):

OK, that's enough cute critterage for one day. Back to work.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The New Ketchup

Although I liked putting ketchup on food as a kid, I didn't take it to extremes. While I could understand how drowning otherwise objectionable foods in the sweet, red, not-then-squeezable sauce sometimes made them palatable. Or at least not excruciating. But for me ketchup was my first foray into flavor enhancers. And mixing food temperatures. Not only did ketchup safely perk up an otherwise boring hot dog without getting into the scary world of mustard and relish, the contrast of the cool catsup squiggle against the hot skin of the dawg pleased my fussy tongue. But hot dogs with ketchup were a gateway. Liver and fishsticks soon followed. Fortunately, I never got into the really freakish stuff like putting it on eggs. Just the standard fried potato products which now, as an adult, are really the only use I have for ketchup.

Over the holidays, I realized that I now have adult equivalents of ketchup: maple syrup and bourbon. Despite long ago leaving behind my finicky eating habits, there are still a few foods out there that I really don't enjoy. A few vegetables. Having had the occasional revelatory experience at a friend's home (what, brussels sprouts can taste good with a nice chestnut cream sauce?) or a restaurant (cauliflower can be comforting in a kofta??), I knew that it was possible to enjoy what I had despised if only the preparation was right.  I set out a challenge that would let me conquer my prejudices and allow me to embrace some really spectacularly useful vegetables: all vegetable side dishes for our holiday meals would be veggies I normally hate.

First up: brussels sprouts. Partly because they look so festive in the stores at the holidays, displayed on the stalk and partly because I know so few people who like them, I really wanted to tackle these tiny brassicas for Thanksgiving. My favorite food-porn magazine, Bon Appetit, came to the rescue with a recipe for brussels sprouts with maple syrup. Outstanding. Not mushy at all and not pungent. Firm, roasty, and with just enough maple to bring out the quite nice flavor of the sprouts without making them overly sweet. Most surprisingly, they reheated really well. Good thing since we had a lot of leftovers. Big score here. I will happily make these again.

Next up: sweet potatoes. One of the healthiest veggies around and a personal favorite of the veg, I really felt obliged to find more ways to work this into our diet when I discovered that North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the country. I had already found one recipe for sweet potatoes in sage brown butter than made me quite willing (just not excited) to eat them. When a friend pointed me toward one involving cranberries, butter, and bourbon, I knew we had a winner. The original recipe for cranberry-glazed sweet potatoes can be found in Food & Wine magazine but it definitely needs adjusting. I was advised to skimp on the cooking time but splurge on the bourbon and that's exactly right. Still working on getting the amounts just right (and a bigger baking dish so the slices can spread out a bit more). Yes, that means I have already gone back to this recipe for seconds. It is that good. The contrast between the bursts of tarty goodness and the buttery, bourbony potatoes is spectacular. I'm upping the amount of cranberries each time just to be sure there's at least one in every bite.

Alas, I cannot report a cauliflower victory just yet. I hope to have that soon but I haven't procured the oyster mushrooms required. Really want to wait until I have some that I've foraged myself, not the sad little ones in the plastic-wrapped containers at the grocery store. Then again, it would have messed with my theme of maple and bourbon making all the icky vegetables magically turn into crave-worthy side dishes. And if I can't get the oyster mushrooms soon, I may just go ahead and figure out someway to cook cauliflower with one or both of my adult ketchups.

In the end, I didn't do all scary veggies for all our holiday meals. We let our new old favorite, celery root puree with hazelnuts, stand in for the cauliflower both at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And what did they accompany? Well, for Christmas it was Carbonnade a la Flamande for the meat (Bon Appetit's recipe for beef short-ribs slow-cooked in a muchness of dark beer) and wild mushroom and caramelized onion shepherd's pie with a mushroom-pinot noir sauce (recipes from Vegetarian Times). Throw in our usual wine, sunchoke and arugula salad, and some honey yeast rolls and we were set. More than set.

And although we drank Chinese 5-spice mulled wine and hot gingerbread punch at the holidays, it must be noted that ketchup in ketchup (and by that I mean maple syrup in bourbon) makes a lovely beverage any time of the year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Naturally, I wrote too soon in the last post when I said the creek was going down and the parade of trash and trees had subsided. On Day 4 of the Great Deluge, the rains came harder than before and the creek rose higher than it had been all week. And the trees. Oh, the trees. I've never seen such large trees come down the pike and so many. One after another, huge trees some as big as 40 feet tall (long?) and some a good 18 inches in diameter. Unlike the earlier floating forest, these trees were fresh. Not the accumulated debris of the past year washed down the hillsides and the gullies. No, this time the trees were freshly fallen. I have to assume that we were seeing the arboreal aftereffects of landslides somewhere upstream.

Unlike many of the areas to the west of us, we were fortunate to avoid major landslides and washouts. Given the crazy amount of water that came down and sat here for days, we feel quite fortunate to have experienced little lasting damage this time. The barn is still soggy but I've managed to get the worst of the indoor lake drained. Our neighbor's barn did not fare as well. Their old barn collapsed in the flood. Located at the bottom of a steep slope, near the creek but above the floodwaters, the barn most likely was felled by soggy soil. I expect the gush of water coming downhill for days made the ground under the barn so unstable that eventually some key support posts gave way. So sad. Sorry I don't have a before picture. I had actually tried to capture the lovely view last week when I was taking photos from the guesthouse but the sun was in the wrong place. Had intended to try again this week. Sigh. Here's what it looks like now:

I hate losing these old barns. Even if they're not in use (and I don't think this one had been used for much--the owner doesn't farm and leases the land for grazing), they are a beautiful part of the landscape. I love the craftsmanship from an era when people built their own buildings with massive logs and stones from their own or nearby land. The character of the wood--it's color and heft--is unmatched in modern architecture. Most of these barns were built with chestnut trees, so they really are quite irreplaceable. This wasn't the biggest or the prettiest one but every barn I see trips the pragmatic puzzler part of my brain which loves to try to deduce why a barn was designed just so. What purpose did each section serve? Why does this one have a window up there and a lean-to attached on that side? What kind of livestock was kept and was it designed for tractor access or no? Was it all built at once or did they add on as the needs of the farm changed? Now the only question is whether anyone will try to salvage the wood. No doubt the roof will be scavenged for scrap metal but the rest may become just another pile of rotting beams, joists, and siding. A most unjust end for a barn that served honorably. And our valley will never look the same again. Sigh again.

In other news, the snow never materialized and although it got cold, it was nowhere near as bad as predicted. Thanks to the massive rain and moderate temps this month, it is looking like spring now. The grass is greening up, the speedwell and dandelions are flowering (a boon to the bees looking for nectar and pollen on warm winter days), and even a few lawn tractors have been spotted exercising in the neighborhood. It's been so mild that I still have chard, kale, and a bit of oregano growing in the garden despite my neglecting to put on the floating row cover before winter.

All of this is quite wrong, of course. It is January and we need lots more cold hours for our fruit trees. Just yesterday, I saw a tree in town covered in pink blossoms as though it were March or April. And our hyacinths are coming up. Much too soon. I fear a repeat of last year's early warmup following by a freeze that killed all our apple blossoms and zapped the asparagus. At least we'll have a few stretches of real winter weather this week and next with temps in the teens and 20s. That should convince everything to go or stay dormant for a little while.

The reprieve from extreme wintry weather last week did give us time to do some repairs. We redug ditches and cleared one major blockage due to one of the resident groundhogs digging a new burrow (photo above) and depositing the dirt in the exact spot in the ditch where the water drains off the hillside). Then we filled in the channels in both driveways where water had started to carve out new paths and we re-established the firepit. So much sand had been deposited on top of it that we didn't bother to dig out the rocks that used to form our ring of fire. Just dug up the logs of the outer circle and dug out the center of the pit. We'll have a nice big burn as soon as the wood dries out and the cold wind dies down.

And that, dear ones, is the final installment of our January 2013 flood update. I hope.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rough Year for the Barns

Still soggy. The creek's still high but at least there aren't so many logs coming down with the water any more (but this video shows one of the many which bobbed by a couple of days ago). The promise of a few days to dry out got tossed out with a revised forecast--lots more rain last night and today then switching to snow this evening. We always take the accumulation forecasts with a big grain of salt but when they say 4-6 inches, we at least pay attention. That's a lot for this area (though we've had as much as 18 inches in one go) and it only takes an inch or so to make driving treacherous on these mountain roads even for those of us who grew up with serious snow. The real worry now is mudslides. There have already been several in the region and with very soggy ground about to go through a quick freeze/thaw cycle (forecast for early next week calls for highs in the teens), it could get ugly. Speaking of ugly.....

It's been a rough year for our barns. Eschol decided that winter was an excellent time to air condition the big barn and in a very short period around Christmas, removed the remaining doors and most of the siding from lower level of the barn. Not only did he make me very unhappy by messing with one of my favorite parts of the farm--I love these old barns and seeing them every morning when I walk out to feed the buffs used to bring me such pleasure--he created a huge hassle factor. His propensity for taking the siding, doors, and assorted supporting structures and rolling them downhill often into the wet weather creek made for a lot of hard, messy labor for me as I did my daily salvage operation. It's not like the wood was all in great shape to begin with but it was still functional. Here's what it looked like on Dec. 19th as the buffs soaked in the sun--south side, yo!

And here it is a couple of weeks later with my quick and dirty fix for keeping him from getting at the structurally-significant supports. I can put the siding back on but I don't think I can pick up the floor of the hayloft if that collapses.

No point in putting the siding back on while Eschol's around, however. Probably goes without saying that he has put himself on the menu here in short order. I'm working on finding a way to get him from farm to freezer before he does much more damage. I know he's frustrated but a frustrated bull who likes using his horns to play demolition derby is just not something I need in my life right now. We have also decided to tear down the old chicken coop. It needed massive repairs and since I'm still on a steep learning curve with the buffs, it seemed unlikely that I'd want to take on chickens any time soon. So, when Eschol punched a calf-sized hole in the side of the coop, we cut off his access and made the executive decision to tear it down and salvage the wood for use in repairing the more-critical barns. The flood waters taking a new path this week just reinforced why putting effort into repairing the coop never would have paid off anyway:

Yup, there's a reason why the floor of the coop had rotted out. Just too damn soggy. Oh well, at least now I don't have to figure out how to predator-proof a coop against coyotes, foxes, raccoons, snakes, etc. just to have the chickens eaten by our resident red-shouldered hawks. So, if we ever dry out, we'll be doing another demolition project (the pig sty takedown was our first). Too bad Eschol can't be trusted to do the job responsibly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ski Lake Claire

When we lived in Atlanta, we lived next to a neighborhood called Lake Claire. The good-humored residents of this charming collection of Craftsman bungalows drive cars sporting bumper stickers that exhort one to "Ski Lake Clare." The joke, of course, is that there is no lake in Lake Claire. Since the flood waters returned yesterday, I have been pondering whether to promote our new guesthouse with a slogan like Ski Lake Sandy. Sorry. I know it's already been a bad year for people named Sandy. But our creek is Sandy Mush Creek and Ski Lake Mush sounds more like a dreary breakfast offering than a pleasant way to recreate.

It seems as though I've been writing about floods here quite frequently. Sure, living down by the creek where all the water drains down from the surrounding hills, we expect to be soggy. They call it bottom land for a reason. Soggy bottom. Still, I can't help but feel that these 100-year floods are happening every six months or so. Why it was just six months ago that the calves were born amidst a similar flood. I feel bad for the new neighbors who over the weekend moved into the doublewide just up the creek from us. A raging creek rising up to greet you in your backyard is not the welcome wagon experience one wants.

I must admit, there's a kind of excitement, an amped-up state precipitated by the sight and sound of the rising, rushing waters. A bit like the heightened state of awareness that comes with a big electrical storm, there's an anticipation of the extraordinary, that which takes us out of our everyday routine, as well as a dread of impending disaster. It's hard to take one's eyes off the creek as a mind-boggling array of logs, trees, stumps, trash, bits of barn, and UFOs (unidentified floating objects) race toward the house then veer away down the creek. Then there are all the branches--the feeder creeks that cut through our property emptying into Sandy Mush. This one's a wet weather creek--normally dry but this year it's been flowing with alarming regularity.

Once the sun goes down, we are left with nothing but the roar of the creeks. The sound surrounds and permeates the house even with every window shut tight. Sound sleep is impossible. The mind imaginatively fills in the details that our eyes cannot. Just how high is the creek now? Has the water breached the lower pasture or swept away the garden? Is that crashing the sound of flotsam smashing into the rocks as the logs and stumps get washed round the bend of the creek or is it one of our trees losing its grip on the soggy soil. Hard not to worry that dawn's first light will reveal a tangle of mangled fence line and deep channels gouged into the driveway and the sloped pastures long since denuded of their protective summer cover of grasses. Let's not even think about a repeat or worse of the landslide a few years back that came within inches of taking out the main road. Instead, we try to think good thoughts about our house, nice and dry, high above the creek and perched on solid rock.

The first big flood during our tenure here scooped out a lot of sand from the area we call the beach (home to our fire pit). The subsequent floods, however, have dumped much more sand than they've taken away. We're rather pleased with this trend in terra forming but remain quite cognizant of how easily it could go the other way. Each time the waters recede, we look to see if our landholdings have increased (and, if so, grab the shovels to excavate the fire pit) or if someone downstream will be benefiting from our unintentional largesse. Here's the beach now:

As any homeowner learns eventually, water is going to go where it wants to go. Despite your efforts to capture it, repel it, or get it into a diversion program, water takes these as mere suggestions at best. We have dug ditches, built berms, and installed gutters, rain barrels, and drainage pipes. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. And what works one time often doesn't the next. This time we have been lucky. Despite massive torrents of water gushing down the main driveway, the gravel has largely stayed put. The steep and historically badly rutted guesthouse driveway that we just had regraded last week also seems to be holding. On the downside, the barn has taken on more water than ever but fortunately, it is an area where it will not do much damage. The buffs will have soggier bedding than I'd like but they don't seem to care. Just an added level of challenge for me to carry their not insubstantial cowpies out to the manure pile.

Also on the plus side, the Fish Pond may soon be living up to its facetious name. The normally dry vestige of what we think was once a water retention area (from long ago when this property was part of a dairy farm) we named in honor of our real estate agent's vision of us farming tilapia here. Personally, I'd still rather the buffs relocate their wallow here than get into the whole fingerlings-to-fishes scene but never say never. We all may have to adapt to the changes that global weirding seems to be bringing. Just glad I have water buffalo since water seems like it's going to be our friend and our foe for the foreseeable future. Insert your own favorite f-word here. I know which one I'm using.

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.