Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Ethical Omnivore

 Breakfast: Guinea fowl eggs with lambs quarters, pig weed, onion and chicken hearts

What is it that makes my breakfast this morning so 'ethical'? 

Let's start with the eggs...
I use Guinea Fowl on my farm to control the pest population. No Frontline for the cats & dogs because thanks to these feathered dinosaurs who voraciously hunt down bugs and eat them so there is no need to poison my pets. However, because of their free-roaming nature, they tend to lay there eggs in places I may not find them immediately, therefore, I rarely sell Guinea eggs unless I know exactly when they've been laid. Coming across a nest of these conical little beauties is, indeed, a treat as their yolks tend to be large and extra-rich as compared to a chicken's egg due to the fact Guineas forage up to 90% of their diet as opposed to a chicken's 40%. 

When I find an errant nest, I place the eggs in a bowl of water. Those that float get tossed out, but if they stay firmly on the bottom, they'll become breakfast. By the way, this test works on all types of eggs. 

The heart of a good meal....
What else? Heart! Raising animals from conception to customer, after all these years I've learned there is precious little that ever gets wasted. But there are a few key items that seem to languish in the freezer (or are such delicacies), I tend to keep them for myself. One of these are chicken hearts. Out of a fifty bird batch, I may end up with a pound of hearts. I've cooked them all sorts of ways, but my favorite is to simply fry them all up at once in their own fat with just a little black pepper and then cut up a few at a time and saute them along with greens and onions or garlic for a quick breakfast. They are also quite good on bamboo skewers and grilled until crispy. 

Eat those weeds!
Let me tell you, there are plenty of weeds in my garden. But what is a weed? As a meat goat producer, I LOVE weeds! Why? They are extremely high in nutrients and weed-fed goats grow faster & taste better. After attending a Weed Walk with the renown Grace Lefever of Sonnewald Natural Foods, my mind will forever be changed about what I see as a weed versus what I see as food, not just for myself but for my animals.   
While I may not chow down on poison ivy (which weighs in at 26% protein and is high in vitamin C) like my goats do, this morning's breakfast straight from the rows between my planted crops is Lambs Quarters and Pig Weed

Eating weeds is much preferred to spending money on expensive herbicides anyway. 

By the way, being an 'ethical omnivore' is also cost-effective. Even shopping at the trendiest of farmers markets for these ingredients still puts this breakfast at less than a $1.50 as long as you pick your own weeds and you'll stand in line longer at Starbucks than it took to cook it. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Lucky Day

It doesn't matter what type of food you grow--meat, veggies, fruit--there are two critical pieces of equipment one should never skimp on or be without: gloves & a knife.

One of the challenges most women farmers face are finding a good pair of sturdy leather gloves that will fit our smaller hands. Over the years I've found two types--deerskin and goatskin--that are pliable, yet thick enough for rough jobs.

Small leather work gloves, however, are difficult and expensive to come by. Sure, just get them off the Internet I've been advised, but even the same size in the same brand can vary widely in fit and quality from pair to pair. Similarly disappointing, when I do find a pair worthy of purchasing, they're usually the obligatory smalls on the rack. Even companies specializing in tools for women, such as Green Heron Tools, don't necessarily carry gloves with enough gumption to pass the rigors of ranch work as I found out after shredding a pair of $30 work gloves in less than a season. I knew I shouldn't have trusted anything with the word 'vegan' in the name for working with livestock.  

Parting with a well-worn pair that have molded to the unique curves of my hands is met with trepidation as I often toss them into a fire so as to force myself to use the newer, stiffer, unfamiliar set waiting in the wings. One pair in particular, kidskin gauntlets with heavy canvas cuffs that extended well past my wrists, where particularly difficult to bid adieu. I justified their continued use despite the fingertips being completely worn through after borrowed by one of my Crossfit friends who wore them while picking up and hefting overhead a hundred pound round stone that was once a ballast ball on Spanish galleon that sank in the Santa Barbara Channel.  Eventually the succumbed to the flames after I had cut off the finger tips when the leather began to bunch up just past my first phalanges when my fingers poked through the holes.

My latest lovelies were a pair of white kidskin with dual stitching around the thumbs and fingers that were short and narrow enough not to slosh around. Wrangling stock, wrapping chain, running wire--it didn't matter, those gloves warded off all sorts of evils to my flesh...until they disappeared along with my beloved Buck knife.

Given to me by Ol' Cowboy Jack at the Flying H one year for Christmas, he barked "Don't you ever lose that knife, ya hear? It's a good that should last you a lifetime."  The following spring I took it along on a class field trip to Yosemite and broke off the tip trying to pry up a small flake of granite off Half Dome. Fortunately at the time I was working in the kitchen at a fancy mountain hot springs resort restaurant in Ojai and the chef had the professional knife sharpener dude 'fix' my blade by grinding it down to a new tip albeit, shorter in length.

This modification came in handy during a trip back east when I was stopped at the boarding gate to my flight back to California. The security agent spied the knife in my backpack as it went through the X-ray machine.

"You can't take that knife with you on the plane," he said.

"But I flew to Pennsylvania with it in my backpack," I countered. Keep in mind this is pre 9/11.

"Only blades three inches or less are allowed in carry-on and that's a three and three quarter inch blade," he told me. And with that, I whipped out my knife and asked him to measure the blade. Verifying that the blade was in fact exactly three inches, he handed it back to me allowing me to board the plane. And to think that last time I flew TSA confiscated my nail clippers while my knife lay safely on my dresser at home.

For nearly thirty years that knife had been my constant companion, castrating calves, cutting baling twine, stripping network cables, slicing artisan cheese and charcuterie, digging out slivers of errant wood and metal embedded in flesh, slaughtering goats and lambs, field dressing deer--whatever life put before me that needed a sharp blade.  I knew the familiar clunk it made while still in my pocket as my clothes hit the floor at the end of the day as well as the loud thwacking when it would sneak into the dryer after a thorough cleansing undetected in the laundry.

I was territorial about my knife, rarely giving it up and when I did, badgering the users for its return until it was safely back in my possession. A former companion had a Chinese knockoff he'd often try to trade out with me only to be met with a growl, "Where's my knife?" When he moved out, that Buck was one of the few things I hid just to be certain he didn't abscond with it out of spite.

But now they were both MIA. I knew they ran off together as they were never far from each other. For days I looked at all the familiar spots where I might have laid them down together--the cab of the truck, throughout the barn, by the gardens, in the basement, stuffed in the tool crock in the kitchen--nowhere to be found.

As Christmas approached, I thought of the previous year in which the holiday card I had always sent to Jack came back in the mail Return To Sender. I found out he had passed away at Thanksgiving. At least I wouldn't have to write this year and tell him after all these years I had finally lost that knife.

Throughout the winter I thought about replacing my Buck with the same model, but upon inspection of the new knives at the local hardware store I found their quality lacking in comparison to my original tool. There was the smaller model with the mother-of-pearl handle for $129. "Splurge," I thought to myself justifying the purchase since I don't buy fancy jewelry or handbags, but the thought of that much falling out of my pocket left me walking out of the store empty handed and resorting to old steak knives, linoleum cutters and cheap scissors stashed throughout the farm in various places.

While the gloves and knife are year-round items, some of my gear is seasonal, especially outerwear. Up until yesterday I'd been using my winter wet weather wear. If it's one thing I can't stand it's being cold and wet. With the unusually cool spring, I'd held out with my insulated rain coat until the impending summer's rains turned warm enough to break out my summer rain coat.

It was heavier than usual. There was something causing bulges in both pockets. Thinking they were stuffed with baling twine as a few strands of jute hung from one pocket I began cleaning out the detritus from last season when I realized I had found my treasures. Despite being covered in dried manure, mud and the gloves sporting a fine green hair-like fungus stitching together the fingers, I had hit gold. And best of all, when I opened the blade, I found it still had a sharp edge on it thanks to the gal at one of my markets who runs a mobile sharpening service a few stands down from mine who keeps all my blades in good working order.

"Oh no!" she had exclaimed upon returning to the market this spring when I told her I had lost the Buck. Now I'm really looking forward to giving it to her for a tune-up. Some days it's the simplest things that bring us great joy, even if it's a pair of moldy gloves and a dirty pocket knife.