Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rabbit Stew

So instead of an exciting title for this post, I'm straight up warning you: This is a post about the rabbit stew we made last night.

There. The trigger-warning is out of the way.

Now on to the good stuff.

Oh. My. Word.

Why have I never eaten rabbit before?! I have eaten so many weird things in my life, but I've never had rabbit. This stuff tastes a-maz-ing! And, it smells amazing when it's cooking. None of my kids are picky in the least, but only one of them could be considered "a foodie." So let me just say that even my most utilitarian eater is in love. He actually went back later in the evening, picked all the meat out of the stew, and stuffed it in his mouth. I'm a bit miffed over that, to be honest.

As with anything we try for the first time, we went very simple. We like to see what stuff tastes like without a lot going on to distract from the flavor. Jeremy browned the rabbit in some hot oil in the dutch oven, then added some carrots, chopped butternut squash, and about six cups of water before setting it to boil and popping on the lid. After about an hour, he added sweet potato, salt, and some sage and basil.

After it cooked for a couple of hours, Jeremy pulled out the rabbit, shredded the meat, and then tossed it back into the stew. Super simple, easy, and delicious.

And did I mention he bakes, too? Those are fresh outta the oven biscuits, my friends, ready to be spread with some homemade pumpkin butter. It doesn't get much better!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Celebrity Encounters - Homestead Style

Ok. So I'm not much of a celebrity follower. We lived in Southern California a few years ago, and while I worked in LA on a regular basis, I never actually saw a celebrity in real life. I came awfully close quite often; I'd come out of a back room to hear the staff talking about so-and-so A-list famous person who'd just come through to shop.

There is one time I did see a celebrity, but it turned out it was actually a drug dealer, and then I got caught staring at him, and then what happened turned into one of my best party stories.

So I'm not super into celebrities.

Unless it's someone that I feel has had a major impact on my life, and then I can fangirl with the best of them. I am really bad at it, though. I'm still trying to shake off the horror of the time I told one of my very favorite authors, "Oh. My. Gosh! I can't believe I just pee'd next to you!!" after we walked out of adjacent bathroom stalls...

My face is red just typing that.

Anyway, I had a massive fangirl moment a few days ago. I met one of my favorite celebrities in the homesteading world, and it was even more incredible than I thought it'd be. This is someone who homesteads in the PNW, and shares the glory and the heartbreak that is part of this lifestyle. I love reading her blog and Facebook posts.

I got to visit Ann, from A Farm Girl in the Making!

I almost forgot to take a picture, but I ran back at the last minute...

She was even cooler, sweeter, and more helpful in person than she is online, especially considering the fact that I invited myself over to her house!

This is one of the biggest reasons I've fallen in love with this homesteading lifestyle - the community. It doesn't matter if my homestead is in a tiny backyard, or a multi-acre lot, so many of the people that live this life allow you into their lives so graciously. I have been encouraged and helped by people I've never even met on a daily basis. I've made friends with people all around the world since we've started our little farm, and there's not been one unkind word or a single time that help wasn't offered when I asked.

When I had an ailing chicken, and I sent a message to several homesteaders whose blogs I follow, every one of them took the time to answer my questions patiently and at length. When Ann posted that she and her husband were planning to process a batch of rabbits over the weekend, I sent her a message asking if I could come help out in order to learn how it's done, and they invited us over immediately.

This lifestyle is exhausting at times, heartbreaking on occasion, and gratifyingly wonderful most of the time. A big part of what makes it wonderful are the friends we're finding along the way. So, Ann and Justin, thanks for being new friends, and also for not reporting me when I sent you a Facebook message out of the blue asking if I could come to your house and butcher rabbits.

About those cute, fluffy bunnies...

People get so excited when they hear we live on a farm. Even when I tell them it isn't really recognizable as a farm because it's so tiny and urban, they still fall in love with the idea of it. "You have chickens! And the quail and rabbits are so cute! And you grow stuff! How exciting!"

They want to come see it all for themselves. The kids bring friends over to the house, and while my kids want to stay inside or go to the mall, their friends want to eat things in the yard or try catching a chicken. It's fun, and novel, and exciting!

But it's a little different when you're the one living the daily business of keeping a farm running. I absolutely love it - it's been a lifelong dream, but even a small time deal like ours means daily chores and difficult decisions.

Everything we do here is an investment. The work I put into raising the chickens pays off when they lay eggs, and eventually, they end up in the crockpot. Same with the quail, the rabbits, and the food we grow in the gardens. I put work into it so that I can feed my family nutritious, local, organic food.

Our very first Rabbit Processing Day happened a couple of days ago, and it's already caused some, how can I put it mildly, consternation amongst some of our friends and family. This is the photo that started it. My husband was helping me move the rabbits out into their outdoor run, something that we do every single day that it's not pouring rain.

He captioned it: "Playing with our food!"

Unfortunately, seeing the fluffy bun tummy in conjunction with the word "food" caused some people some distress. The comments, both public and private, started rolling in. People seem to find it upsetting that we are killing our animals.

Here is what I want you to know:

You should know that while the animals in my yard are not "pets", they are loved and cared for at the same level as any pet. I can personally vouch for the health and well being of every animal I raise. These rabbits lived a fabulous life, albeit a short one. Right up until they died, my rabbits had everything a rabbit could want, and they died as peacefully as possible, something I personally saw to in order to keep the promise I made to my animals.

You see, I promise every animal that I bring onto our property it will have a content and safe life, with all the healthy nourishment they need to live as naturally as possible. So for my rabbits - they ran and hopped and leapt over each other, playing and grooming. These rabbits had not only the best food, but as much fresh garden produce and grass grazing time as was possible.

Soaking up some sun in the rabbit run.
All of our animals have safe, secure housing that is adapted to their seasonal needs. Each animal is handled carefully and lovingly every day so that when I do need to care for them, or ultimately, when the end of their life comes, they are calm in my hands, not panicked and afraid.

Her favorite spot for keeping an eye on
the barn's comings and goings.

Daily Lap Time time.
In contrast, the lives of any animal that end up in my shopping cart have been less than ideal at best, horrific at worst. Don't get me wrong; I'm not condemning or judging. In fact, I still buy meat, eggs, milk, etc. at the store, and I know the stories of animal cruelty that's wrapped up in it. It's why I'm trying this different way of living. I'm hoping that by getting my hands dirty, by looking into the eyes of my food as I thank it for giving me its life, I can move into a better, more connected life.

So while I am not condemning anyone for the personal decisions they make, I am asking kindly not to be condemned for mine.

Friday, December 9, 2016

How to Stay Warm (and Survive) on a Snow Day

We woke up to SNOW this morning!

It's not a lot of snow, but if you live in Western Washington, it's officially referred to as "A Snowpacalypse."

The kids are pretty stoked, especially since school was canceled, something I discovered via text at o'dark hundred, and the kids discovered when that mysterious internal alarm kids are born with woke them up at 5a.m. I wonder if there's a way to reset the factory settings for kids' inner alarms? School day - wake up early. Day off - sleep in. Mine are confused.

I really hate dragging out of bed to see to all the animals in the mornings, but these freezing mornings of late have been the absolute worst, at least for me; none of the critters really seem that put out by the chill.

 Mal doesn't really mind the early morning snowfall,
probably due to owning such a nice, woolly fur coat.

There really isn't actually that much snow,
and it's already melting off.

 The girls are thoroughly unimpressed, though. This may
be the least amount of noise I've ever heard from them.
They seem to be in shock... I can relate.
Early morning + below freezing = no bueno! 

I think this leftover bit of pumpkin may be done for.

 So in light of Snowmageddon 2016, may I present...

 How to Stay Warm
Brought to you by the birds of 7 Tree Farm.

Option 1) Snuggle up with a friend. Better, snuggle up
with two friends, and make sure you're in the middle.
More better, have your friends wrap their wings over you.
Most better, jump into your friend's arms, and demand
they carry you into the house where the heater is on
instead of letting them leave you out in the barn in a
smelly, old dog kennel.

Option 2) Find something warm and insulating, like hay,
blankets, or a down jacket, to hunker down in. Make sure
there is nothing offensive in your chosen insulation,
like poop, bugs, or pokey sticks. In the case of poo
or sticks, remove them. In the case of bugs,
eat them quickly before someone else does. 

Option 3) Hunker down, and floof yerself.
Trapping your body heat is a great way to stay warm.
Use your feathers, or find one of those inflatable t-rex
costumes to keep your body heat from escaping into the
frigid night air. These are available from several online
retailers, and if ordered now, will arrive in time for
Christmas (hint, hint).

Option 4) Be fierce. You are a strong and powerful chicken.
You are the mighty descendent of the mighty dinosaur.
Snow trembles before you. Your unblinking fierceness
stares cold weather in the face and laughs.
(Not literally.) Figuratively, you are laughing at this
cold, petulant weather. You crow in triumph as the
snow turns to rain in its elemental terror.
What are you worried about?
You are the Chuck Norris of the Chookery.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Welcome to the Farm!

Or, maybe I should say "farm" instead. If you walked down the sidewalk in front of our house, you'd never look at us and think, "What a lovely farm!" In fact, you wouldn't think farm at all.

We live in a rather ordinary house, in an perfectly ordinary neighborhood, in a very urban city. We like it very much. But when we bought it almost exactly a year ago, it was most definitely NOT a farm. It had been newly remodeled, and while the remodel and the landscaping is lovely, wasn't the farm I'd been dreaming of since I was small.

About a month after we moved in, I started getting seed catalogs in the mail. Sitting in our cozy new home, browsing through all those glossy pages of produce porn, I made my decision. We would build our farm here, in the middle of our suburban neighborhood.

I spent last winter filling notebooks with lists of things to plant, graph paper with measurements and calculations, and scraps of paper with sketches, notes, and plans. I have been told that I was a bit obsessive during that season. Anyone that knows me well, though, will tell you that I really love researching and planning things out (something I've been thankful for time and again as we build our farm).

We spent last spring digging into the barely thawed yard, placing beds here and there. We chose to leave all existing plants and trees through one growing season, to assess what we'd keep and what would come out to make room for more edibles.

I wanted to try raising chickens, something I'd tried twenty or so years ago with disastrous results. I did more research, drew up a plan, and we converted half of the shed in the backyard into a chicken coop. After spending the first half of the summer chasing chickens off the deck and finding poop everywhere, we added an enclosed run.

Since those early days, we've continued to add on, make changes and upgrades, and dream bigger. And, it's only our first year! So stay tuned...