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Pigs

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Hot off the Grill - It's the May CSA

It's grill time people. IT'S GRILL TIME!!!! This month's share celebrates this by bringing you products that are meant to get you outside and over that open flame. IMG_3054

First up, the beef. In this month's share, you'll find some burger patties that are flat-out delicious with just salt and pepper, but also a flank steak. The most common use for flank steak is fajitas. While fajitas are a perfectly fine preparation, with a little bit of work and awareness of how to cut the steak, you can create a grilled steak that everyone will love. When cooking flank steak, we simply use salt and pepper, but this steak is well suited for any marinade or rub. When you're ready to cook, generously season the meat and then cook over a high heat for only a couple of minutes per side (depends on thickness of course). You want to be sure to not overcook the meat, as it has the potential to get tough if given the opportunity. You're also going to want to ensure adequate resting time, generally about the same amount of time that you took to cook the steak. Once well rested, slice the meat and serve to your family and/or guests. It's not your standard slicing though, as you're going to want to slice it -across- the grain to help tenderize the cuts. Here is a good video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_WF-aUCOCk

Once you're all set with the cutting, there's nothing left to do but open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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Pork chops are probably the best grilled item on a pig, at least in my opinion. They have great marbling (at least ours do ;) ), a nice fat cap and don't take too long to cook. That's where people go wrong with pork chops though— they overcook them. This country has been told for so long to cook pork to 150 or 160 or even higher, but really, the optimal temperature in our opinion is about 135-140. They'll be just a little bit pink in the center and absolutely perfectly juicy. With this being the first opportunity to try pork raised our way, I suggest using the opportunity to just do salt and pepper for seasoning so that you can clearly taste the difference. As for cooking, you're looking at 3 - 4 minutes per side for a room temperature pork chop and the same rules as above for resting. After that, slice and enjoy with a nice spring salad or even some smashed potatoes. There really is no wrong side when it comes to pork chops, so just enjoy the flavor with whatever you enjoy on the side.

Please remember that the fat on this pork is not the fat you know from the grocery store!  These pigs were finished on barley, which makes their fat snow-white, softer, more flavorful [some would say "nutty"]— you may even notice that it looks and feels different on your hands as you prepare it.  You may be tempted to cut the fat off, but this fat is partially unsaturated, like olive oil.  It's good and good for ya!  If nothing else, you can save it and use it when you're cooking something else, to grease your skillet or flavor a soup.  But, you might find that you like it just as it is, on the chop as part of the bite.

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In Bloom

Last weekend we spent a rare weekend away, wining and dining our way through some of Chicago's best restaurants and bars, though there are many from which to choose— the storied Alinea, Nico Osteria, EL Ideas, Three Dots and a Dash, Billy Sunday, Avec.   You know, pretty much the exact opposite of our everyday farm lives.  It was wonderful to be there with my mom and brother, strolling along the city streets without many cares in the world.

But it is strange, too, to be away from the farm.  There's a feeling of being lost, when you realize in the hotel room that there's no dogs underfoot, no roosters crowing outside your window, no goats screaming for their dinner [even though it may only be 3 pm].  I couldn't help but watch people meandering as aimlessly as we were, wondering— what do they do with their time?  We've been making our dreams a reality at Ham Sweet Farm for a little over a year now, and I already can't remember what it feels like to wake up with nothing to do.  Even on our do-nothing days, chores are still happening in the morning and evening.  And when we're away, the desire to constant check in at home is almost obsessive-compulsive.  Oh, it's been 20 minutes, do you think so-and-so is ok or that goat jumped out the fence again?  Are the dogs behaving?  Did the basement flood?

When we left, buds on our fruit trees had been threatening to open, but weren't quite ready to commit yet given this year's wild weather patterns.  Nothing was really blooming, although the grass had started to green up.  But, oh, after 3 days absence...

Edible flowers everywhere!

It was a wonderful gift to come home to.  We will have apples and pears and maybe even peaches this year!  I guess life really does go on.  Mother Nature adapts far better than we ever could.  And on that note... we are officially on piglet watch!  Our beautiful gilt Gnocchi is due next Monday.  She has started to show the final signs of impending birth.  To say we are excited would be a vast understatement!  As a first-time mama, we will be watching closely to make sure things go as well as possible.  We'll be sure to keep you posted!

Gnocchi looking plump... beginning to bag up!

 

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Strong Fences Make Good Neighbors

2013 Ice Storm damage

The pigs spent most of this bitterly cold winter in their huts, buried in a deep bed of slowly decomposing straw.  But now that Spring has decided to grace us with her presence, it was time to move the fences that, at 12 to 18 inches high, spent most of the winter under snow cover.

First things first... we had to make a serious dent in the downed trees, broken and twisted branches, and upended root systems that were bowled over by the ice storm that hit us just before Christmas.  We were incredibly lucky to keep power through the ordeal, but the damage done to dozens of trees around our property was impressive.  Somehow we managed to avoid any structures or animals being hit at the time, but the fences did not fare so well.

Ironically, many of the trees damaged were the much-maligned Box Elder trees, a quick-growing, shallow-rooted piece-of-garbage specimen that resides on our short list of things to remove in the coming years on the farm.  We had planned to remove them at a slower pace, but hey, no time like the present!  Christian and our friend John Beng fired up their chainsaws and we started making piles of wood as it was cut.  The pyres soon towered over us.  As everything leafs out in the next few weeks, I'm very curious to see what our former Forest looks like.  I'm guessing we could put

Now you see it... now you don't.

a full-sun garden out back this year if we wanted to!  We spread a mix of seeds in its stead, and will be watching to see what grows well in the coming months.

Christian and I have gotten rather proficient at pig-fence building.  It's a simple process:  1) pick your size, 2) unwire old fence, 3) place insulator posts and corner t-posts as desired and string with wire... and you can't forget the most important part!  Once your new fence is up and taut, tie your "flags"— plastic orange tape that alerts the pigs to the fence's location.  Pigs aren't known for their sense of sight, so the more you can help them avoid the fence, the better!  In the photo to the right, you can make out the wire in the foreground... but other than the insulator posts, as your eye travels down the line, there's no telling whether or not a wire is there.  In the background, you can see where I had stopped tying flags to take this photo.  The bright orange is hard to miss.  Once our pigs have been trained to these fences, they stay reliably inside of them even on a single strand of wire!

IMG_4478Once your fence is stranded and flagged and free of any snags, you're ready to hook it back up to the solar charger.  That, besides the flags, is the most important part.  And really, without the voltage, the flags won't do much good.  We keep the fence hot, around 12,000 Volts or so, and the pigs know it.

Voila!  Pigs in the woods.  So far they've been turning over rotting logs, digging up raspberry roots, and hopefully rooting up any remnants of last year's garlic mustard and burdock.  They love their freedom to explore, and we love watching them work.  Not to mention, it makes for some delicious pork.  Just don't tell them that.

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Doing the Best We Can

These are the questions we continually get about our farm, and quite frankly, it's beyond annoying. These questions are almost always asked by people who don't farm, have never set foot on a farm and more often than not, completely their concerns.

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