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spring

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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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Meat CSA - April Recipes

I'm sure everyone else is as excited about the arrival of Spring as we are. While it now means a few weeks of mud season, it's far more enjoyable to be outside and working with the animals. It also means that we can start to think a bit more about grilling. Grilling means a lot of things, but when we think of grilling, we think of a perfectly seared steak. We kick off the start of the grilling season with the addition of some beautiful ribeye steaks. The smell and sound of the steak hitting the roaring hot grill is one of the most distinctive pleasures of cooking. The sizzle, the smoke, it embodies everything about that's great about cooking outside. steak

Cooking a great steak isn't difficult, but it does require a few key steps to ensure proper doneness and tenderness. This is especially true for the members receiving the 100% grass fed steaks, as they can quickly go from perfect to tough if you aren't paying attention. Here are a few tips and hints to getting the perfect steak.

1. Get your grill roaring hot. If you have the ability to use a cast iron grill, definitely use that, as it transfers heat much better than the typical stainless grill that most are accustomed to. If not, no big deal, as the main thing is to get your grill screaming hot.

2. Generously pre-salt your meat about 60 minutes prior to cooking and leave out on the counter, allowing the meat to come to room temperature. This will allow the salt to penetrate the meat, rather than just being a surface seasoning. 

3. When you're ready to cook, you're going to lay that steak down on the grill an do -NOT- move until you're ready to flip. For rare beef, we typically cook about 3 minutes each side. On average, you'll cook grass-fed beef about 30% less time than grain-fed/supplemented . If you're a fan of well-done meat, you're going to want to cook this meat in some sort of a liquid, as it'll just toughen up far too much to be tasty if grilled to that level of doneness.

Here is a quick guide to test doneness in your meat.  Hold your thumb and finger/s together as pictured, and feel each stage of cooking:

Temperature Test

*for those folks receiving the beef that has had free choice access to grain, you'll follow the exact same directions, just allowing for a slightly longer cooking time.

Chorizo and Eggs

In addition to ribeyes, you'll also find some chorizo, a chuck roast and ground beef. Here are some great recipes for those items as well.

Frittata with Chard and Chorizo

Braised Beef with Red Onion Gremolata

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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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Spring is In the Air...

IMG_4452The chorus of birds has reached fever-pitch each morning as the sun breaks.  Not just our local songbirds, but the turkeys, and chickens, and ducks seem to awake just before dawn to start their daily warbling, crowing, quacking, gobbling, cooing and clucking. Long gone are the mornings when our alarm clocks would sound in what felt like the middle of the night, and we would rouse in pitch blackness, prying the dogs out of their cozy beds to venture outside for chores before winter's bleak dawn.  While that was our reality for eternity this winter, it has all been forgiven now that tulips are starting to peek out under mulch, and tree buds grow fatter by the day.  Wispy, watercolored clouds usher summer closer as the sunshine banishes all traces of Winter 2013-2014... We'll forgive but never forget!

IMG_4337There is a marked difference in the behavior of all the animals since even just a few weeks ago.  The chickens, who had barely set foot outside their coop since December, have been ranging all over our yard and the woods surrounding.  They're finding tender new shoots, sprouted seeds, worms and newly hatched bugs.  The color of their yolks has deepened already to a rich golden hue, and they just look healthier.  They even venture into the pig pasture sometimes, scrounging for spilled grain or grubs that the pigs have turned up while rooting around.

Everyone feels playful, too.  Finally, it's been warm enough for our chicks and ducklings to spend time outside.  When they haven't grown their adult feathers, even a chilly draft can be enough to sicken or kill them.  But in the sunshine, they strut and flutter and preen while learning to scratch around in the grass and dirt.

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There is a certain sense of serenity among the frenetic energy of spring.  We have so many projects to do, both inside and out of the house.  But just as our ducks are busy building nests in which to lay their eggs, just as the bees are slowly circling the property in search of those first blooms that will carry nectar to rejuvenate their hive, just as the grass reclaims its green luster from high summer, so, too, do we feel the need to build and create and maintain.

"A high windy day, with sunshine and the blue jays calling.  Snowdrops in bloom, first of all, and the bees active, finding something, I think, among the chickweed buds.  But the year has not yet come alive. . . . Blessed quiet, thinking and working." — David Grayson, A Countryman's Year

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Word of the Day

IMG_4305exhaustion |igˈzôsCHən|   noun  1 a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue: he was pale with exhaustion.

satisfaction |ˌsatisˈfakSHən|

noun;  fulfillment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this: he smiled with satisfaction | managing directors seeking greater job satisfaction.

 

When eating dinner or taking a shower sound like more work than they're worth, it might be springtime on a farm.  I have nothing much more worthwhile to say, other than that it is past my bedtime.

"A remarkable springlike day, full of sunshine and running water— and a soft blue haze in the south— and a hungry unrest of the spirit.  I could not think of work, but of the sap running in maple trees, and the meadows coming bare, and the young things of the woods peeping out to see if winter is over and gone.  I think I never saw the sky so high and clear, or ever knew the wind so sweet."   — David Grayson, A Countryman's Year, c. 1936

 

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Start of March... Start of the Season!

Oh look.  More snow.

A tantalizing whisper of a change in season started a few days ago.

Last week, as I was headed to work in a whiteout blizzard after finishing morning chores, I cried. Because WINTER.  It was the snowflake that broke the farmer's back, I suppose you could say.  That day, Christian and I were talking about my melancholy and he confided that he, too, felt that winter had finally broken him.  The good news?  That's how every Michigander feels at the end of February.  The bad news?  A common saying about March is, "In like a lion, out like a lamb."

"So what does that mean?" a weatherbeaten Christian asked me.  It means we're not in the clear yet.  There are likely still freak snowstorms in store for us, and plenty of wet, cold, icy, muddy, unpredictable weather in our future.  But it does mean we're in the home stretch!  It means green grass will replace the two feet of snow and ice that has been here since Thanksgiving.  It means the front porch is open for business again.

 

Front Porch Snoozin'

 

The sun has put everyone in a good mood.  The dogs no longer jostle to get back into the house as soon as they've done their business.  The chickens have actually ventured out across the yard to forage in the newly-bared patches of earth and grass still nestled in between snow drifts.  The pigs have been sunning themselves on the edges of their huts, while the ducks have delighted in the puddles and mud everywhere.  Our tom turkey, Phil Collins, has been strutting around for days trying to impress his harem of hens despite breaking through the melting snow crust with his feet.  Our little soccer ball-shaped goat, Bootsie, couldn't be persuaded to get off her new lawn chair...

Things will be changing quickly around here in the upcoming months... baby animals, harvest dates, sowing, planting, reaping, weekend projects and Monday exhaustion.  All tenets of farm life.  We were able to devote half of the weekend to relaxation and the other half to outdoor projects, which felt so good after the bone-chilling winter weekends that have made even the most simple tasks burdensome in the last few months.  Sometimes the greatest reward for a day's work is a sore back and tired hands.

And, just one week after winter's wrath brought defeated tears to my eyes, I cried the other day because IT WAS JUST SO GODDAMN BEAUTIFUL OUT.  Michigan, you always make Spring worth the wait.

 

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