A little crackers!

Today I am spending the afternoon replenishing our packed lunch stock by baking lots of different kinds of crackers: animal crackers, saltine crackers, cream crackers, graham crackers…we will see how many I can get around to before the boys get home from school. If you’d like to find the recipe for our delicious, healthy graham crackers, just scroll down! More cracker recipes are sure to follow soon.

1117141253c

My brother and his family are visiting this week from Washington state. Over dinner one evening he commented on how expensive farmer’s markets are and how he can’t really find anywhere he likes and thinks they are overrated. Now, I’ll the first person to tell you the perils of trendy, over-priced ‘farmer’s markets.’ BUT, I find ‘first-world’ obsessions with “how expensive local/healthy food is” to be a little laughable. I understand the temptation to feed your family cheaply when you are truly struggling for money or are relying on food stamps (bizarrely gov’t food systems frequently encourage purchase of sugary processed foods); calculated calorie-for-calorie, mass-produced highly processed sugary and fatty foods are the best value. (Thanks largely to government subsidies for things like corn syrup.)

But here’s the thing. We in the capitalist world enjoy not only the cheapest food prices as relative to our income compared to those in other countries, but also the cheapest food prices in our history. And this trend isn’t new. In 1945, wheat cost $5.61 per unit. In 1837 it cost $9.10, according to data complied by the census bureau. And check out this graph from a study by Dr. Guyenet:

food cheaper

 

Yup, that’s right: we are allotting less of our income to purchasing food than ever before, even with a cultural increase in eating out.

“So, what does this all have to do with crackers?” you ask. Well, as I took my graham crackers out of the oven and looked at each one’s slightly different shape and bake, I thought “well they certainly don’t look uniform enough to be store bought.” Suddenly my mind reflected back on the conversation with my brother. And I realized something. I don’t bake crackers for my family in a poor attempt to imitate store-bought goods. Mass-produced store goods are a poor approximation of  REAL food.

Crackers, despite what you might think, are a great example of this. What was the origination and purpose of the cracker? To be a processed, sugary snack food? Absolutely not. In fact, crackers were created over 200 years ago to give the wholesome, sustaining bread loaf longevity and portability for those working away from home. One of the original recipes was eventually sold to Nabisco and only then transformed into the uniform vehicle for corn syrup we know today.

Even the graham cracker was once created for health. In the 1800’s Mr. Graham developed graham flour as a way to convince people to eat less processed white flour, by incorporating more of the healthy whole grain into the ground wheat. But of course this invention has also since been adulterated by mass production.

If you want to reclaim the humble cracker as a vehicle for healthy food on the go, join our virtuous food movement and try this graham cracker recipe!

2 3/4 cups graham flour (or if you don’t have any, use 1 cup whole wheat and 1 3/4 cups all purpose)

3/4 cup honey

pinch salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup butter, shortening, or lard

1/4 cup water

Just mix, roll thinly, and bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes. They will be a little soft but will get their crunch when they cool: don’t overbake or they will burn quickly; the taste is not very forgiving if burned. Enjoy the delicious crisp texture right away or keep airtight for good eating up to a week.

1117141253e

Advertisements

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free… (or, for something more modern, “Here Come the Girls…”)

The girls have arrived! After months of planning and a year of contemplating the pros and cons of a dairy cow, Colleen and Maia moved in on Saturday.

IMG_20140606_195705IMG_20140606_184715 IMG_20140606_122603

We did a lot of research on what breed would be appropriate for our little homestead. We visited farms and wrote to farms and homesteads of all shapes and sizes. In the end we chose Dexters. For those of y0u interested in keeping a milk cow of your own, here is why we chose this breed:

1. They need a lot less land than more common varieties of cow. Two can graze on 1/2 acre of land. They also produce a lot less waste, eat and drink a lot less. All of this was well suited to our 9 acre farm.

2. They are naturally small. That means all the advantages in handling that cows only up to my chest ( I am only 5’3″ tall) would have, but without any of the problems of genetic dwarfism.

3. They are an easy starter breed. They calf easily (cows, like humans, need to have a calf to produce milk), can graze on relatively ‘poor’ land, and are generally low maintenance. I’ve only had them for a few days but I keep going into the field to check they are still alive simply because I can’t believe how easy they are: fill up their water tank and throw some hay over the fence on occasion, and they just quietly get on with life. They are hearty enough that they dont have any major housing requirements: ours have an open barn/shed  to run into when the weather isnt good. (Although it is raining right now and they are under the trees quite happily.) Having said that they are very curious and friendly, which is good for handling when it comes to milking.

4. You can keep two easily in a small area. We wanted to keep two so we could continuously have milk, without milking when the cow is pregnant. (Even if you milk through most of pregnancy, you still have ‘dry’ periods with only one cow.)

5. Calf value: Dexters are good for meat and milk. This and the rarity of the breed (it is considered ‘endangered’ amongst cattle breeds) makes the calves valuable, allowing us to make back the money we invest in them.

6. Amount of milk produced: These cows are a true ‘homestead’ breed. They dont produce 10 or 15 gallons of milk a day like the cows you may see around. I’ve heard people with Holsteins and Jerseys say “my cow produces so much milk I’m having to throw it away!” Dexters produce up to 4 gallons a day, and when sharing that milk with a calf there is little pressure to milk your cow for gallons you will never be able to use. Dexters still have nice creamy milk though (rivaling Jerseys almost), so you will have plenty of cream to make your butter and ice cream.

 

I love going out to the pasture and seeing our cows grazing. Most steps we have taken in our lives as a family have been considered ‘extraordinary’ by our peers: I remember being asked many times if I was pregnant just because my husband and I chose to get married whilst still in college (two different colleges on opposite sides of the country). Surely, our friends reasoned, there would be no other reason to get married ‘so young.’ When I had our first child, my college friends, now on to careers in the city, commented that I could be a grandmother before they were even married. Nearly 10 years later we are still happily married, with kids in school, and moving on to the next ‘crazy’ step of our lives as we start a homestead farm. To me this has felt as natural and right as the other decisions we have made in our lives. I love the self-reliance it offers us. I love that I know where my food comes from and what has gone into it. I love the lessons my children are learning about stewardship, hard work, and cooperation. I love not going to the shop every week and seeing this:

IMG_20140602_171921

(Hmmm, and I only paid $3.05 last week…and $2.85 last month…)

And I love running a farm in a healthy, natural, sustainable way. I realize these are loaded words in the farming industry. I don’t mean them in a ‘tree hugger’ sort of way. What I do mean, is this:

IMG_20140608_192255

IMG_20140606_184922IMG_20140608_191217IMG_20140603_091924

Our farm is a little circle of production:

We mow the lawn. The raked grass goes to the cows. The cows poo. The chickens eat the fly larvae out of the cow pies (no, chickens are not naturally vegetarian). The chickens produce eggs. The egg shells and cow manure go on our garden. The eggs, milk, and (hopefully soon) meat our animals produce feed us so we have energy to mow and rake the lawn. There is no waste to get rid of. We aren’t swimming in flies or cow poo or chicken poo. We aren’t spending more feeding our garden than it feeds us. We see and control every piece of our food chain. We live it and breathe it and work for it, and it works for us.

My children watch our heifers fascinated. I can’t help but share their sense of wonder at it all.

IMG_20140606_141228