Sand Holler Farm

Jul

12
2016

Ratatouille

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         0

Like many people, I used to struggle with what to do with eggplant. But over the years of growing it, I have quite a list of favorite recipes. While ratatouille contains many other bounties of the summer garden, my version strongly features eggplant. And it’s easier than some methods I’ve seen!

ratatoullie3

Eggplant is in full swing in the garden right now. Even though we only have about 40 feet of it planted, we are harvesting a lot every day. So it’s ratatouille time! Each summer I make pots and pots and freeze it for the winter. And of course eat a ton. While I do have a specific recipe, I tend to change amounts to match whatever we have on hand at the time. The recipe is quite forgiving!

Ratatouille

serves 4

1 lb eggplant
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 tbsp thyme, chopped
1 tbsp oregano, chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock
Salt to taste
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

I use any eggplant for the recipe. I might peel big globe eggplants if they have been sitting in the fridge a bit too long. Slender Asian eggplants usually have tender enough skin to not bother. Dice the eggplant to about 1/2″, place in a colander and salt. Putting a plate with a weight on top helps as well. Let drain for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Our sweet pepper plants are being sooo slow this year, so I grabbed a bag of chopped and frozen ones from last year. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions until soft and fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. In the beginning, the dish is very bright and colorful!

ratatoullie2

While the onions and peppers cook, rinse the eggplant and let drain.

Add the eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, thyme, oregano and stock. Sometimes I don’t have enough thyme. I’ll sub basil, marjoram or even a little rosemary. Just use 2 tbsp total of herbs. Also, if the tomatoes are extra juicy (heirloom ones usually are), I’ll leave out the stock and just add salt.

ratatoullie1

Bring the mix to a simmer, turn down and cook for 30 minutes, until everything is tender and the flavors are melded. Season with salt to taste and serve with parsley sprinkled on top.

So…what to eat this with?! We love it on top of pasta or rice, with some sharp cheese added. Or just as a side dish. Or even cold the next day. I’ll put it through the food processor to chop fine and it is as a spread on crackers, or crusty bread.

rataouille4

 

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Mar

29
2014

Vaccinate your goat

Marissa     Animal Husbandry         2

Having a couple of pets in the city means at least yearly visits to the vet. But having livestock is different. Most farmers do a fair bit of their own vetting. The easiest of which is giving vaccinations. It’s not cost effective to have a vet out to give shots to your whole herd so it is one of the first vetting skills you should master. Plus, it’s easy!

This is about one particular vaccine – CD/T – that we give subcutaneously (subQ).

To give vaccinations, you first need to know what your goats (or other livestock) needs. There are a lot of possibilities out there and your choice will depend on your area as well as your own personal opinions. The one vaccine we give to our goats without fail every year is called CD/T (or CD&T or CD-T). It stands for Clostridium perfringinstypes types C and D and tetanus toxoid. The first is what causes ‘enterotoxemia’ or over-eating disease. And tetanus is the same thing as in humans and can be quite fatal. So we vaccinate.

You don’t need any fancy equipment to do your own vaccines. In fact, you really only need 4 things – the vaccine, an alcohol wipe, the needle and the syringe. For our adult goats, we use an 18 gauge needle. They are sized like piercing or wire – the bigger the number, the smaller the size. For babies, we use 22 gauge. Here are all the supplies you need…plus a curious goat schnoz. (I narrowly missed catching the goat pick up the needle in her mouth! Good thing it was still in the sleeve and she didn’t swallow…)

items

When you purchase new vaccines (or other meds sold in these types of bottles) there is usually a metal ring around the whole top with a ‘button’ in the middle. Just pop the button off and leave the metal around the rubber stopper. You will put the needle through the rubber part, so you don’t need to open the whole bottle up. The alcohol wipe is to clean the top of the bottle. I have to admit that I don’t always do this. But with a new bottle or one that is stored out in the open, I always do. This particular vaccine we store in the fridge which is pretty clean, but I wiped it anyway. Just a simple swipe to get anything off that you might otherwise push into the sterile contents of the container with the needle.

cleantop

With that done, it’s time to actually draw the medicine. Open the syringe (they come in either the paper/plastic package as shown or a hard plastic tube. I prefer the pictured packaging because it seems like less waste). Attach the needle to the syringe. There are two attachment methods – lure-slip and lure-lock. I prefer the lock – you turn the base of the needle about a half turn into threads on the syringe. I have found that most vets prefer the slip – you just push the base of the needle onto the end of the syringe. Either is fine, it’s just a preference. Just be sure you get needles and syringes that match as they aren’t interchangeable.

The first step of drawing the vaccine is to pull the syringe plunger back to the amount you want. This vaccine is 2 cc for any goat, no matter the size or age. So I pull the plunger back to 2 cc, filling the syringe with air.

drawair

Then stick the needle into the bottle of medicine and push the air in. Hold the bottle upside down and make sure the needle is still in the liquid – when a bottle is partially empty, you don’t want the needle in the air above. All of this allows the liquid to flow easily – otherwise, you would be pulling a vacuum in the container and it would be difficult to draw. In fact, after you push in the air, you can let go of the plunger and the syringe will start filling without much effort from you. Go ahead and pull back to the 2 cc line again.

drawback

Even with this method, you will end up with some air in the syringe. For this type of shot it won’t kill the animal to have a tiny air bubble in there but you might as well get it out. After you pull the needle out, hold the syringe perfectly upright and tap a bit to get any bubbles in the middle. BARELY squeeze the plunger in until you get a drop from the needle. Of course, you will frequently squirt a bit out instead of one drop. Don’t worry – it won’t be too much so you won’t need to refill unless you really squeezed hard. The whole needle will be full so your plunger might not read exactly 2 cc anymore, but it should be close.

expelair

Now the real fun begins. Sometimes we give shots in the milk room with a goat in the stanchion, other times I give them shots “in the field”. I actually prefer the later because the light is better and I have more freedom to get into position. But if it’s a difficult or very large goat, they go into the stanchion.

The first, and most important, step of giving shots in the field is to PUT THE CAP ON THE NEEDLE. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wrestled with a goat with the needle hanging out and me terrified I’m going to stab something I shouldn’t. So get the cap on until you have the goat in position.

I prefer the method of forming a stanchion with my legs. I face the goat and move the goat’s head between my legs until the shoulders are against my thighs. Squeeze enough so that when the goat’s natural instinct to flee kicks in, he or she is pushing on your legs with the shoulders and doesn’t simply slip between your legs. Bend your knees some too so you can brace yourself!

stanchion

Once you are in position, pull the cap off the needle (I use my mouth…and yes the vaccine tastes bad!). This vaccine (most vaccines) are injected subcutaneously (subQ), meaning underneath the skin and not in the muscle. There are several places to do this but I have found the easiest to be right behind where the front leg meets the body. Pull the skin up into a ‘tent’ – find the loosest section of skin you can. You can poke one finger onto the skin tent to get a good idea of where the needle will go. Goats are hairy so sometimes you need to use feel more than look.

inject

Once the tent is pulled up, just stick the stick the needle in and push the plunger! Make sure you only go through one layer of skin – it’s the first ‘pop’. You’ll know if you go through two – the liquid will run down the goat’s leg. I’ve also had goats squirm enough that the needle comes out and again the liquid goes down the leg. Just take a deep breath and do it again! You will know when you did it right when there is a small lump under the skin. You can use the same needle a few times but it gets more dull with every poke, making it harder to insert and hurting the animal more.

That’s it! You will save a lot of time and money learning to do simple shots like this yourself. Shots in the muscle are only a wee but harder so don’t feel apprehensive about learning that either.

2 comments

Mar

26
2014

Nature on a farm

Marissa     General         1

Sorry I’ve not updated the blog in a bit. I’ve been busy keeping the facebook page full of fun and interesting things (I hope…). If you haven’t “liked” us, do so and get daily updates of the goings on around here.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the farm fits in the natural world. We are currently interviewing people to come and live here and many of them have commented how they want to “get back to nature” or “live in nature”. This is all well and good but sometimes I think people that don’t farm are missing the point. Much of farming is about manipulating nature or even controlling nature. Growing crops is a prime example. You plant one thing and want just that one thing to grow. But even animal husbandry controls nature – fenced pastures, discing fields, harvesting hay. These are not necessarily bad ways of dealing with nature, it’s just simply not the plain and simple natural world.

Fortunately, we run an “organic” farm (not certified but follow the spirit of the law – above and beyond the letter!). That means that even though we are controlling the natural world around us, we also let it thrive when it doesn’t interfere in what we do. Our farm is 40 acres and only 5 acres of it are truly part of the active farm. Most of that is in animal pastures and the rest the garden and orchard. Our pastures include as many trees as were here when we bought the property. Animals need shade and the trees are part of the whole ecosystem. That’s the important part of sustainable farming – thriving ecosystems. The first few years here were somewhat barren compared to the creatures we have now running around the farm.

Recently while spending time in the goat pen, my nearly 2 year old starting saying “Hi, Rabbit!” We have a goat named Rabbit so I thought it was cute that she finally learned their names until I noticed she was peaking under the stair-step play area for the goats. Sure enough, there was a rabbit under there! Instead of trapping/shooting/killing the rabbit (which loves to eat the pea shoots in the garden…), I decided to encourage him to stay in the goat area and leave the garden alone. We’ve put some alfalfa and grain around the area and the rabbit continues to return to that spot to shelter during the day. We can get within a foot of him and he doesn’t seem to mind. And we haven’t lost any pea shoots in about a week!

Rabbit in the goat pen

Animals aren’t the only thing though. The woods surrounding the farmed section of our land provide excellent habitat for creatures that benefit us in many ways. Not only do they house birds that eat insects, snakes that eat rats and other good predators, but the woods can provide an escape into an even more natural setting. As well even provide us with food sometimes! We have wild mustang grapes, dewberries and prickly pear fruits. And lots and lots of firewood. And check out the cool bark on this hackberry tree!

bark

So farming and nature can go hand and hand as long as you keep each one in perspective. Big “fence row to fence row” farms don’t have the natural world around them to support a thriving ecosystem. But you still must control and manipulate what is going on in the natural world to get the product you want.

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Feb

19
2014

Early spring preperation

Marissa     General         0

Spring on the farm is a busy time of year….um, every season is a busy time of year in Texas where things don’t shut down under a blanket of snow! But spring is especially important, as well as fall. Here we have two main growing seasons – warm and cold (or hot and not-so-hot). The transitions occur at spring and fall. So coming up in late March and April we will be planting all the warm season veggies – tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, etc. We even have teeny tomato plants sprouting!

Seed tray with small tomato seedlings
In order to get ready for all that planting, we are harvesting heavily on rows where those veggies are going to go. Most greens will keep growing beyond the middle of March so we are choosing the oldest rows and harvesting the greens completely. But…now what do we do with all that food?!?  Much of our greens and other winter veggies are going into our newly restarted CSA program as well as the Bastrop farmers market. But we have a LOT of greens. So I’m turning more of it into mustard greens pesto and arugula pasta. Rows with cover crops have been tilled and are waiting for the green manure to rot so they can be planted in a few weeks.

Wide rows with drip tape

Another aspect of getting ready for the new summer crops is to go through our freezer. We put up mostly summer vegetables during the glut in mid-season. By the time the first hard freeze comes and wipes out the summer plants, we are sick of them anyway and ready to concentrate on the bounty of winter. But soon we are peeking in the freezer to find some ratatouille or tomato soup. At this point in the year, I start to really concentrate on using all that up before we start harvesting new summer vegetables. I try to keep track of these things so I can see if we haven’t put up enough tomatoes or we froze way too many eggplants (that’s the way it goes every year…). This year we have tons extra because the winter garden was prolific during a time when we weren’t selling much! So the freezer is still packed.

Our freezer full of summer produce

And as I mentioned in the last post, we are on baby goat watch. Our first is due TODAY but it’s late and she doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Of course I’ll update as soon as she does!

Finally, as the days begin to warm up again, we are putting on shorts and enjoying being outside during all daylight hours. The hammock is back in use and usually fully occupied.

Girls lounging on the hammock

Lots to do and not as much time as I would like to keep the blog and facebook page updated. But I’m working on it and have enjoyed the interaction with friends that can’t make it out to the farm very often. But we will be having a party in March. Stay tuned!

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Feb

13
2014

Ack! Mustard Greens!

Marissa     Eats and Drinks         0

I love most winter greens – kale, collards, arugula, Swiss chard, turnips greens, all that. But mustard greens? I’ve never been a fan. Sure, I can have them sauteed in with a mix but they are by far my least favorite of the bunch. Guess what? Bumper crop of mustard greens this year. Sigh.

Mustard plants growing in the garden

As I’ve done in the past, I challenged myself to come up with new and delicious ways to use this bountiful crop. My beet poppy seed muffins proved to me that seemingly insurmountable odds of turning a vegetable from something hated to loved was possible (my husband can’t stand beets but ate those). My stewed cucumbers proved that vegetables can also be used in ways that we don’t typically expect. Cooked cucumbers? They are delicious. So onto the mustard greens challenge.

I tried several of the usual ways to cook them – sauteed with this or that (bacon fat, butter, olive oil, etc). Not impressed. Still unpleasantly bitter with an acrid bite. Then I stumbled across a recipe for mustard greens pesto. I didn’t even open the link the first time I saw it pop up on a google search. Raw mustard greens? Blech. A few days later, I was curious and decided to try it. I looked at many of the recipes online. They used various nuts – pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, etc. Some used copious amounts of olive oil, some just a scant. And most surprisingly, some used cheese and some DIDN’T. I didn’t know you could make pesto without parmesan. So I came up with what I wanted to try. First attempt NAILED IT. Utterly delicious. Nearly a pound of mustard greens disappeared down our gullets before we knew it.

The recipe is simple (below as well as in our online cookbook) – just five ingredients. I found that I liked to use a mix of mustards – two different mizunas. The green mizuna is very mild, I would even put it on a salad raw. The other – Purple Streaks – is sharp and biting in a pleasant way.

Mustard greens, salt, olive oil, pecans and garlic

The recipe is so simple in fact, that I can hardly take credit for making it. The kitchen elves took over and did all the work for me!

helpers

The result is a bright and luscious pesto with lots of powerful vitamins from the greens and good fats from the pecans and olive oil. And without the cheese, you miss out on saturated fats too!

Mustard Greens Pesto

1 cup pecans
6 cloves garlic (crushed)
½ tsp salt
2 bunches mustard greens, large stems removed (about 12 ounces)
½ cups olive oil

Roast the pecans at 400°F for 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Stir once or twice while checking on them. Let them cool while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Add pecans and garlic to a food processor and pulse several times to coarsely chop. Add salt and then the greens. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may only be able to add half the greens at a time. Begin to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while blending constantly. Stop to add greens and pack them down occasionally until you have them all in the container. Continue blending until you reach your desired consistency. Add additional salt as desired (I do like another 1/4 tsp or so but I love salt!)

Delicious bowl of healthy goodness

Here’s another link to the recipe in the cookbook. Enjoy!

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