An Update


My reminder of my 2016 One Little Word

So when last we left off with this story, our cattle shed had collapsed and the future was uncertain. I can’t say as much has changed. The insurance did not come through. (Bye bye, Farm Bureau!) We won’t have any beef to sell at market this summer. We haven’t decided on chickens yet but if we do raise any, we will probably only raise what we have orders for and no extra’s. And we’ll have just a limited number of beef quarters to sell next fall.

My intention was to spend the first few months of the year Doing Analysis! Making a Plan! Instead, I just sort of let. it. be. Let myself sit with the idea of letting this chapter of our lives go and starting a new one… or not. I still love our little farm, but sometimes you have to let one thing go in order to make room for another. I feel like I even foretold the answer to myself in this blog post, almost exactly 11 years ago, which concluded with “I don’t know if our little Sugar Creek Farm business is the destination on my journey into agriculture. I have a feeling it’s only a stop along the way.”

I admit I’ve become somewhat jaded about agriculture since I wrote that post. And I have always felt it – that the farm, the blog, were not the destination but rather an important part of the journey to something else. I just wish I knew what that something else is.

So bear with me if I use this space to figure that out. This blog is one of my most cherished possessions, simply for the record it’s been of our lives. I love reading through the archives and seeing what we were up to on this day in the past. It makes sense to me to continue on here, even if we don’t continue on with the farm.

I watched a video by Mike Dooley yesterday, and one thing he said stuck with me:

“You teach best what you need most to learn.”.

So my writing in this space may take a turn towards that… the things I need most to learn right now. Things like,

how to change directions;
how to get over the fear of putting yourself out there and being subject to criticism;
how to “art” (yes, that is actually a search I typed into Google);
how to make time for writing;
how to revive a rusty cast iron skillet

Not even kidding on that last one. I read something about a potato and salt, and I’m totally going to try it.

As humans, no matter what our age, I believe we should always be learning something or we might as well just dig ourselves a grave. Tell me, friends, what do you most need to learn right now?

11 years ago:
Welcome, Rudy!

10 years ago:
Disneyland

9 years ago:
I spent my evening…
Garden, March 28

8 years ago:
Good for what ails you

6 years ago:
Things making me happy this week

5 years ago:
Unfolding

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Popular

I confess, I geek out a little bit every week when I get the email with my weekly blog stats. It’s just fun to see how many visitors I had, where they came from, and what they were looking for on my little blog that’s just a blip in the big old blogosphere.

Can you guess what my most popular post is? It’s the most popular in terms of visits, links, pins… all of it.


Tutorial :: Kindle Case

Yep, it has nothing to do with the things I blog about most, farming and cooking. Which makes me wonder if I should be taking my blog in a different direction. But I haven’t been doing any of these types of crafty projects lately.

One project I’ve got on my mind, however, is how to get “caught up” with my photos and scrapbooks and all of my kids’ “stuff” that’s accumulated the last 20 (gasp!) years. I may not have time to work on it much, with a graduation party to put together. That will come up faster than I want it to. But for sure, when I get to it, I’ll blog about it!

9 years ago:

Sewing

Miscellany

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Intention :: OLW 2016

“Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Laugh.
Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.
Continue to learn.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

It’s been a couple of years since I picked a word for the year, and about 5 years since I followed through with Ali Edwards’ One Little Word class and completed a OLW album for my word. But I’m trying it again this year, and enjoying it very much so far.

Sometimes you choose your word, sometimes it chooses you. Late last year I watched Dr. Wayne Dyer’s movie “The Shift”, and then read his book The Power of Intention. It’s a hard book for me to describe, it was a hard one to wrap my brain around, but it really gave me a new perspective to think about. And as I continue to read more of Dr. Dyer’s books, I wanted to keep the word “intention” in the foreground of 2016. He says something like, do you want to live the same year 70 times? Or do you want to live 70 years? I don’t want to get stuck in a rut of living, I want to be intentional about how I live my years.

The class assignment for February is to choose one thing to do every day. My big, main intention for the year is to write. I know, I’m a bit of a broken record in that department. But I’m choosing writing as my one thing this month, whether that be morning pages, blogging, poetry… whatever. Just so I’m writing.

“If one advances confidently
in the direction of his dreams,
and endeavors to live the life
which he has imagined,
he will meet with a success
unexpected in common hours.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

What are your intentions for 2016?

2 years ago:
R.I.P., BWD

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It is what it is

Sharing some pictures of the Great Shed Collapse of 2015. The insurance guy was out. If they determine it was caused by snow, we get nothing. If they determine it was caused by wind, they will pay the claim but only a percentage of it can be used for demolition and cleanup.

It would be easy to drop into a “can’t win for losing” kind of thinking. Instead we’re of the attitude that it is what it is, and what will be will be.

So no plan going forward yet, we’re in wait-and-see mode on that front. In the meantime the calves have shelter in the large quonset huts that we had for the sows, and Matt is ferrying water. It will do for now.

Because we won’t have retail beef available for farmers market this summer, we’re pondering on what to do about chickens. Do we not raise them at all? Do we raise them and come to the market with just them, maybe the first Saturday after each batch is butchered? The one difficulty with chickens is taking pre-orders and then getting people to actually pick them up. And there’s the question of whether paying the market fee, and carrying the liability insurance makes sense. Without beef to help cover those costs, it might not.

I would love to hear thoughts, ideas, suggestions from all of you!

10 years ago:
Year In Review (a guest post by Matt)

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Intention (& a free printable)

‘Tis the season. New year, new reflections, new intentions.

I’m one that tries to take the mindset that any day – every day – can be a new start. And yet I love me a good year-end reflection and dreaming and goal setting.

I think my New Year’s intentions have been more-or-less the same the past several years.

Do more of the things that bring me joy.

This includes creating… writing, music, art. Being outdoors. Reading. Connecting and relationships. Taking good care of myself.

The past several years that hasn’t really come to fruition. I’ve felt really stagnant. But looking back on it, I think it’s just because we’ve been in the trenches of parenting teenagers. It’s rewarding work, but make no mistake, it is work.

So I don’t beat myself up about feeling stagnant, realizing that I may have been stagnant creatively, but there was other good stuff – important stuff – going on.

2016 will see us shove another one out of the nest. Come fall there will be a new normal and a different balance of boys-to-girls around here. And I’m crossing my fingers that maybe just a little bit of space will open up for me to pursue some of those joys of mine.

For sure there will be some space this May thru October, when I would normally be at farmers markets. Since we won’t have retail beef to sell, the time I normally spend at market will be open for… whatever.

I already have visions of a weed-free garden dancing around my head.

*~*~*

I wanted to share something with all of you to kick off 2016. You can download the PDF of a 2016 calendar I put together at the link here: 2016 Calendar

I like to print this off on white cardstock, stick it on a clipboard, and hang it above my desk. Putting this calendar together is a joy, and sharing it with all of you makes it even more so.

Look at me, meeting those intentions of creativity and connection already 😉 Here’s to tackling those 2016 intentions head on!

3 years ago:

Hello. Howdy. Hi. Guten tag.

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Regrouping


Titus watching the boys run water in the blizzard

The last few months have been interesting around Sugar Creek Farm.

For one thing, I sold out our on-the-hoof beef quarters. I didn’t mean to. Usually we keep around 3 head for the next summer’s farmers markets, and usually we’re still trying to get the rest of the quarters sold right up until the last one is butchered. So this summer I was just happily taking deposits for beef quarters and dropping them in an envelope, not giving it a lot of thought. When I finally sat down to compile the orders and assign butcher dates, I couldn’t believe I’d sold all but half a head. And that half a head is what we need to feed our family for the year.

Oops.

So that means no retail cuts of beef for 2016.

About that same time, it was time to buy our calves for next year. And considering we’d sold all of our beef without really trying, you might think it was time to expand the herd. People have really been seeking us out because we’re grass-finished, and attending the Clear Lake farmers market this year allowed us to introduce our meats to a whole new clientele.

Except that feeder calves were really, really expensive this fall, for the second year in a row. And switching to grass-finished has been more expensive than we anticipated. We just couldn’t get it to pencil out. So we bought back half the number we usually do.

That means that in 2016 we either sell them all on-the-hoof again – at the correct premium for grass-finished – or we sell none on-the-hoof and save them for 2017 farmers market.

Decisions, decisions.

We’re tired. We’re tired of losing money. We’re tired of marketing. We’re tired of not having money to put back into the farm.

And then our cattle shed collapsed in on itself in the middle of the blizzard on Monday.

So it’s time for regrouping. Maybe regroup isn’t the right word, because it might be time to retire. I can wrap my brain around that possibility, but it’s harder to wrap my heart around it.

2 years ago:
Deadheading

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How to Cook : Roast Chicken

How to Cook : Roast Chicken ~ Sugar Creek Farm

Of all the things I like to share on this blog, the main one is how to be a Ma Ingalls – or Martha Stewart, or whatever domestic goddess you’d like to emulate – in today’s world. I’ve referred to it before as my “lazy cooking from scratch” style. And what makes you feel more like a domestic goddess than pulling a beautifully roasted chicken out of your oven to the ooh’s and aah’s of your loving family?

Okay, in my family it goes more like shouting “thanks, mom” while you stab your favorite piece and throw it on your plate before anyone else stabs it. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell-esque scene I like to imagine. But still I’m taking domestic goddess creds however I can get them.

This chicken took me only 20 minutes to prepare and put in the oven, including picture taking time. It really doesn’t get any easier than this! The time-to-goddess ratio is really good. Here’s the basic formula…

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse your thawed chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Make sure you’ve pulled out that bag of giblets from the cavity! Salt and pepper it all over, inside and out. Then season it with whatever trips your trigger. I used garlic powder and dried thyme. You could try onion powder, seasoned salt, Greek seasoning… whatever you have on hand and sounds good to you! Once you’ve sprinkled your seasoning all over, give that chicken a massage and just rub the seasoning right into the skin.

For inside the cavity of the chicken you can slice up an onion, or a lemon, and just stuff it in there. I didn’t have either one of those things, and as my eyes traveled around the kitchen they lit on some apples. I figured apples would work as well as anything to add moisture and a subtle flavor, so I cut one into quarters and stuffed those inside the cavity.

Then I figured, why stop there? I cut another apple into eighths and tucked them in around the outside of the chicken. If I’d had any apple juice I would have poured a bit of that over the outside as well. And if I wasn’t lazy, I would have ran out to the garden and snipped whatever fresh herbs I’ve got out there and stuffed those inside with the apples. But “lazy cooking from scratch”, remember?

Slice a 1/4 cup butter into pieces and lay these in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place your chicken on top. Finally, cut another 1/4 cup butter into pieces and lay them over the chicken. Here’s a look before it went in the oven:

How to Cook : Roast Chicken ~ Sugar Creek Farm

Roast uncovered for 90 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees. My chicken was between 4 and 5 pounds, so your cooking time may be more or less depending on the size of your chicken. Remove it from the oven, cover it with foil, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. This will allow the juices to be pulled back into the chicken, making it nice and juicy.

And here’s how it looks coming out. Beautiful!

How to Cook : Roast Chicken ~ Sugar Creek Farm

To go with our chicken, I fixed this Skinny Cauliflower Mac and Cheese from Damn Delicious.

This is one of my favorite recipe sites, I’ve tried several recipes and never been disappointed. Plus we have quite a bit of cauliflower frozen from our garden this summer, so I’m already looking for different ways to use it. This recipe was fantastic, definitely going into heavy rotation. It was easy to throw together while the chicken was cooking, and I just stuck it in the oven while the chicken was resting.

Let me know this week if you need chickens to stock your freezer for winter! Our last batch will be ready the end of next week!

How to Cook : Roast Chicken

How to Cook : Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 4-5 pound roasting chicken
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided
  • Onion, lemon, or apple, quartered
  • Seasoning of your choice
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rinse thawed chicken and pat dry.
  3. Cut 1/4 cup butter into pieces and place in bottom of roasting pan.
  4. Season inside and out with salt, pepper, and seasoning(s) of your choice, rubbing into skin.
  5. Stuff cavity with quartered onion, lemon or apple. If desired, add more onion, lemon or apple pieces around the outside of the chicken.
  6. Bake uncovered for 90 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 180 degrees.
  7. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and let rest for 30 minutes before serving.
http://sugarcreekfarm.net/how-to-cook-roast-chicken/

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Garden 2015 : Tomatoes, part 1


An impressive Hungarian Heart tomato

This year, for the first time in several years, I started my own plants indoors from seed over the winter. And anyone that knows me knows that I get a little carried away when it comes to tomatoes. I don’t honestly know how many plants Matt actually got into the garden. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50?

I know, I have a problem. But I’ve reformed, really I have! One year there were over 100.

I enjoy trying different heirloom varieties. It’s fun to grow tomatoes in interesting shapes and colors, and taste test and compare them. I enjoy reading the histories on them, and you usually can’t find these in stores.

Typically I like to choose an early tomato, a good sauce tomato, a slicing tomato, and a grape or cherry tomato. To that end, this year I chose Siberian, Hungarian Heart, Mortgage Lifter, and Sun Sugar Hybrid. Somehow the Sun Sugar starts didn’t make it into the garden. I’m trying not to take it personally. But I thought I’d give a little review of the rest.

From the left we have a quarter (ha!), Siberian, Mortgage Lifter, and Hungarian Heart.

The Siberians are supposed to be an early tomato, and I always have visions of enjoying early tomatoes, well, before the rest of the tomatoes are ready. Seems reasonable. But I’ve never had an early tomato ripen much before any of the rest of them. Still, this was a really easy tomato to grow. They’re larger than a cherry tomato but smaller than a Roma type. Mine were blemish free with beautiful, smooth skins and a deep red color. I ended up oven drying several batches of these. I’ll share that process later.

Mortgage Lifter is a variety I’ve grown in the past and always liked. They’re a delicious slicing tomato and can get really large. This year many of mine cracked, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’m chalking it up to weather or something.

(This is why I’m not a professional tomato grower. Because I just chalk things up rather than actually finding out.)

I also use ML’s when canning tomato sauce. I think they lend excellent flavor to sauce, and if you’re using a Sauce Master (more on that later, too) it doesn’t matter if these have more seeds than the paste type tomatoes.

Hungarian Heart is another new variety to me this year. These are adorable – they really are heart-shaped! Very meaty, they’re great for saucing. And because they’re so large, you don’t need many to make a lot of puree. I had some cracking with these, also, but not as much as on the ML’s.

The only thing about both the Mortgage Lifter and the Hungarian Heart is that they’re a pink tomato. So sometimes it’s a little hard to tell if they’re ripe or not, because they don’t get that deep, dark red.

Here’s a comparison of them sliced:

You can see that the Mortgage Lifters have more seeds and a higher water content than the Hungarian Hearts. I’m not one that loves tomatoes so much that I’ll just eat them for a snack. But the Mortgage Lifter was so good I did just that, plated up a tomato slice (and then another, and then another) with a bit of salt and chowed down.

We made “hobo packets” on the grill, and you can see the ML tomato slice was bigger than a quarter pound burger. Yum!

I’m not sure what I’ll do next year. I really liked each of these tomatoes. But the fun of trying new-to-me varieties is just so alluring!

2 questions for all of you:

1. What are your favorite tomato varieties?

2. How do you keep yours staked so that you don’t end up with the massive tomato jungle that I’ve got in my garden?

Leave a comment!

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How to Cook :: Stuffed Pepper Soup

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

This has been a fantastic year for growing just about anything. The bell peppers in particular have been beautiful. I froze something like 4 cookie sheets full of them a while back – just cut them in half, scooped out the seeds and membranes, flash froze them on a cookie sheet, and then popped them into a freezer bag.

But even after harvesting more than 3 dozen of those bad boys, they kept on producing! This summer I made traditional stuffed peppers, but wrapped them in foil and cooked them on the grill.

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

So good! But cooler temps had me thinking crockpot and soup.

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

I made this stuffed pepper soup for the first time in August. Some of my peppers had turned a gorgeous red, and some were still green, which makes for a beautiful color combination.

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

The recipe I used called for a can of diced tomatoes, but since our tardy tomatoes were finally getting ripe I just diced up a fresh one to equal 2 cups.

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

I’ve been using my Sauce Master to crank out some beautiful tomato puree (Yes, I just referred to tomato puree as “beautiful”. I stand by it.) and canning spaghetti sauce. So it was easy enough to substitute puree for the canned tomato sauce in equal amounts.

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

The recipe also called for adding a cup of cooked rice with the rest of the ingredients. In the end it was a bit mushy for my tastes, so when I made it again this weekend I added the rice at the very end and liked that version a lot better.

The other thing I did differently when I made it again this weekend was to just do it on the stove top instead of in the slow cooker. It turned out equally well!

I’m definitely putting this soup into heavy rotation while I’ve still got fresh peppers and tomatoes in the garden.This recipe was hit with everyone in my house over the age of 13. (Give you one guess which picky eater didn’t go for it!)

Stuffed Pepper Soup ~ Sugar Creek Farm

How to Cook :: Stuffed Pepper Soup

How to Cook :: Stuffed Pepper Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Sugar Creek Farm grass-finished ground beef
  • 1 c. onion, diced
  • 14-1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes, or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 c. green peppers and/or red peppers, cut into large chunks
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce, or 2 cups fresh tomato puree
  • 3 c. beef, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 1/2 t. dried basil
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 1 c. cooked rice

Instructions

  1. Brown ground beef with onion. Drain, if needed. Place in slow cooker.
  2. Add undrained tomatoes and all remaining ingredients, except rice. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  3. Stir in cooked rice, heat through, and serve.
  4. To cook on the stove top, brown ground beef and onion in a stock pot. Add ingredients as instructed above. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and continue to boil until peppers are fork tender. Stir in rice and serve.
http://sugarcreekfarm.net/how-to-cook-stuffed-pepper-soup/

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Coming into his own

Sunday we loaded batch #2 of chickens out to the processor. It’s always interesting to see what our numbers end up to be. I try to keep track of how many we start with and how many we end up with, but I miss some here and there. We always wonder if the hawks or owls or eagles have taken any without us being aware of it. And then there’s Titus.


Titus is more scared of new kittens than they are of him. But by now they are best of friends.

Titus is doing much better this year than last year. But big dogs take a while to fully mature, and at 20 months old he’s definitely still got some puppy in him. He gets bored and finds it fun to chase the chickens around the shed. One day I arrived at the pen and found him with a chicken on its back between his paws, licking the heck out of that poor chicken. And in the middle of a big growth spurt, a month or so ago, he ate one. (I’d forgotten that Pyrenees have a big growth spurt around 18 months old.)


Titus getting a ride home from work

On the flip side, he’s mostly very gentle with them. If I bring food out for him in the chicken pen, the chickens try to take it and he just gently noses them away. And he doesn’t mind if they sit on him.

Of the 3 Pyrenees we’ve had, Titus has been the best one. He doesn’t bark as much as the others, he doesn’t wander as much as the others. (Although a Pyrenees isn’t really wandering, he’s patrolling what he considers his territory. They’re big dogs, they can cover a lot of territory. However your neighbors may not appreciate this service.)

So we were quite curious to see what story the numbers would tell. There have been a lot of hawks hanging around the pasture this summer. They sit in the trees at the perimeter, screeching as they fly over the chicken pen.

As it turned out, Titus deserved a great big bone for his work. We only lost 12 out of 186, which is a 6% death loss. And some of those losses came before they went on pasture with Titus. We can most definitely live with that. We count anything under 10% as a victory.

Well done, Titus!

4 years ago:
Installment # 11: One of these things just doesn’t belong here

6 years ago:
Watchin’ out for me

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