Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Work!

Today is my last day in the office for the year. We are seeing my family tonight and Bill's family tomorrow afternoon. On Saturday, we are heading to Wisconsin. We plan to:

Install a new seat on the tractor
Put the chains on the tractor tires (I know - we should have done this about a month ago!)
Begin 'shoring up' the foundation of the barn

We are coming home to Chicago on Wednesday and on Thurs we are getting a dumpster and removing the demolition from the apartment we are remodeling.

A week full of work and projects!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The mustard worked out great! I've given it to a couple of people and so far they are pretty impressed!

Here is the Dijon recipe.

Dijon Mustard

1 ¼ cups brown mustard seeds
1 cup yellow mustard powder
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
¼ dup dry white wine
7 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons white wine
Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground mace (I left this out)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I left this out)

Soak the mustard seeds and powder in the water, vinegar and wine. Soak 48 hours, then add the garlic and spices. Mix in a food processor or blender for 5-6 minutes. Cook on low heat in a saucepan or crock pot for 4 hours to mellow out the flavors. (I only did this for 2 hours.)

Age 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
We have a dog that is living in our backyard. It won't let me near it, but it is so skinny I can see all of the vertebrae on his spine. His looks like a Chihuahua mix. I've been feeding him 3 times per day to try to put some weight on him and see if he'll come around to be less feral. In the photo here he is in a box on a rug that I put out for him. Bill has since made him a little den with mulch all around it and a cover to keep snow and rain out so he stays dry and warm(er). He is pretty territorial around his den. I should probably get a humane trap and catch him and take him to Anti-Cruelty but I know they would probably put him down, so I'm going to see if he warms up to me at all.
We still miss our dog terribly - even though it has been 2 1/2 years so it is kinda nice to see pawprints in the snow in the backyard again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Too late re IL Dept of Ag

I just found out that Warren Goetsch was already reappointed to the IL Department of Agriculture.

Politics in Illinois never ceases to amaze me.

If you live in Illinois - call to action re CAFOs!

If you live in Illinois, please consider contacting Governor Pat Quinn to oppose the re-appointment of Warren Goetsch to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

It seems that Mr. Goetsch believes that CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are a good thing for the state and for the rural populations. Mr. Goetsch has continually put the desires of large agribusiness before the concerns of public health of the citizens of Illinois. Mr. Goetsch is behind the improperly permitted large CAFO trying to open in Nora, IL. Read more here.

Industrial agriculture is not sustainable.
Illinois citizens support traditional farmers and family farms - not corporate facilities.
Industrial agriculture destroys our clean air and water.
Agribusinesses destroy rural communities.

Call, email or write to Governor Pat Quinn:

Kate Tomford, Director of Sustainability
Office of Governor Pat Quinn
100 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60601
312-814-4083 fax 312-814-4864

Monday, December 14, 2009

Future Farmhouse

A drawing Bill did of our future home.

The smaller building on the left is the current house which we are repurposing into a studio, office, commercial kitchen and garage.

The building on the right is the newer one. They are connected by a breezeway. Passive solar and solar heated radiant floors are in the house, the breezeway and the commercial kitchen.

The new building is 24' x 30'.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


This year my homemade holiday gifts are lip balm, pear ginger jam, pear butter and homemade mustard. I concocted the lip balm by mixing some beeswax, cocoa butter, olive oil, sweet almond oil and a vanilla bean. It is very waxy, but I like that. My work environment is so dry that my lips are continually peeling so I wanted something really thick and waxy. I don't know how others will like it - but I guess I'll find out! The vanilla didn't impart as much flavor or aroma as I would have liked.

Today is my in the kitchen day. I have started the mustard, brewing some homebrew (that is a gift to Bill and me - not for others :) ) and I'm trying out my new sourdough starter than my cousin gave me yesterday. I love homemade gifts! I killed my last starter (note to self: use and feed it weekly!). I vow to not kill this one.

My brew is a Vienna Lager. I am a novice brewer so I mostly use kits - I was surprised to see that this kit contained corn sugar. I've only tried one non-kit and it was pretty hop-py. It was good. I've been brewing for about two years - it is enjoyable, tasty and more reasonable to purchasing good microbrews.

In this photo, you can see my wooden bread bowl on the right, the homebrew boiling on the stove.

My supervisors. Gracie (black) and Georgie (white tabby also female).

Mustard! I've never tried this, but I'm making two kinds: Apple Cider and Dijon. The one on the left is Dijon.
Here is the Apple Cider Mustard recipe: (I'll post the dijon in a day or so).
Apple Cider Mustard
2/3 C Yellow mustard seeds
1/2 C Brown mustard seeds
1 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C hard apple cider (or apple cider)
2 t brown sugar
2 t salt
Combine seeds, vinegar and cider in a glass jar. Seed out at room temperature for 48 hours. Add remaining ingredients, pour into a food processor and blend and mix until creamy, about 5 mins. Add more liquid (2 vinegar: 1 cider) if needed. Requires 2 -4 weeks aging.
Good on pork, sandwiches or with pretzels.
How easy is that?!? I get my bulk spices (mustard seeds, etc.) from my food coop via Frontier. Even if you have to pay their retail prices - it is worth it because they are a great company and they have really fresh products.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why a 20 acre farm is named 3 Flat Acres

We named our farm 3 Flat Acres soon after buying it in the fall of 2006 (wow - has it been that long already?). Might not make sense to some as it is a 20 acre farm.

A little history first. Six months after we got married, Bill and I purchased a multi-unit building in Chicago. Local vernacular in Chicago calls multi unit buildings "flats" - like they do in London. Our building is a 3 Flat which means that it has three apartments. To say this is a fixer-upper is an understatement. It was crawling with cockroaches and in one of the bathrooms, the bathtub was about to fall through the floor because of leaking water and rotten walls and floors. Anyway - I won't bore you with all of the work we have done, but we have been working on it and living in one of the apartments consistently since 1997.

About 8 years after purchase, the building started to very slowly, bit by bit, make us money instead of consistently costing us money (in repairs and rehabs). After almost 13 years we are now at the point where it has given us the financial freedom to pursue our farm dreams. It has been a long road full of late nights, weekends full of work, and frankly still living in an apartment in our mid-40s but we have always believed that our sacrifices would eventually pay off. The income is now finally able to pay for the building and the farm.

But back to the farm. Our 20 acre farm is very hilly. We are in the driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin. We don't have much flat area on our farm. Enough to put growing beds in areas and allow for crop rotation, but it is not at all like the prairie in western IL where my grandparents farmed from fenceline to fenceline. One day after purchasing our farm, I said to Bill, 'I think we should name our farm 3 Flat Acres - it fairly accurately describes the topography, but it also pays homage to our 3 flat in Chicago that has allowed us to pursue this dream.' He readily agreed and that is how our farm was named.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jobs and finances

Well... Bill gave notice at his job on Monday. He will be there through the end of February. We joke that he is now going from 4 jobs to 3. He has been working getting a new business up and running for over a year now and doing projects on the weekends. He specializes in garden design and does sculptures and furniture out of reclaimed and recycled materials. check out his website here He is also busy with our landlord duties. We have 6 rental apartments in Chicago (we live in one). We recently had a tenant move out so we are going to take this opportunity to fix it up by gutting and remodeling the kitchen and bath and installing a new energy efficient furnace. He has also been working hard to design and timeline our farm rehab and construction - he has been doing architectural drawings and plans and continually revising them. We feel pretty confident that we are close to a final design. (We are including a commercial kitchen! yea!) We want to order our solar panels and some of our solar water heater components to take advantage of the tax credit on our 2009 return. It has been an exciting week - we feel like we are taking a really big step towards our dream of living on our farm.

In other news, our farm class focused on a $10,000 farm start up last week. It was sobering. In the study we did (egg layers - which are of course not really a money maker) showed how little money the farmer made.

I'm also reading a case study published by Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems and the finances are just astoundingly poor, to be frank. Market gardeners with less than 3 acres in vegetable production (not including cover crops) make on average $4.96 per hour. This report is from late 2005 so maybe money has gotten better...? Here is a link to the study: Grower to Grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farm. I haven't read the whole study yet, but I look forward to delving into it further. I need to really do some self-reflection to determine whether I can mentally be OK with working that hard for less than minimum wage. Lots to consider.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Squash quesadillas

I baked up a huge butternut squash last weekend that we have been eating on several times this week. I forgot to take a picture, but it wouldn't fit in my 9x13" baking pan. I had to pull out my big roasting pan. After eating a meal of squash, we still had about 7 C of squash. (yes, it was grown organically and locally by our Southern Wisc meat vendor for my food coop).

Last night we had squash quesadillas.

Heated up several cups of squash. Added a small amount of honey and a lot of garlic. Meanwhile we carmelized some onions from Two Onion Farm with some chipolte pepper (this was a canned item).

On flour tortillas we spread some squash (thinly), topped with the onions and lightly with some cheese (mozzarella from Roelli Cheese - not organic, but local - I shredded it myself) topped with another tortilla and popped into a 325 oven until warmed and slightly browned. Topped with homemade roasted green tomato salsa and some fresh greens from the yard.

Quick and delicious!