Country Living Expo & Cattlemen’s Winterschool

Washington State University - World Class Face to FaceHere is a plug for an upcoming event in Stanwood, WA that should be well worth attending. WSU’s Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool is an amazing array of 135 classes on all sorts of topics,a jam-packed day of learning, plus a prime rib lunch. The hardest part is choosing which classes to attend! 😛

Here is a sampling of some of the topics:

Fruit Tree Maintenance, Hands on Hay judging, Frisbee Dog Training, Growing Giant Pumpkins and Vegetables, Building Your Own Greenhouse, Native Plants for Wetland Restoration, Arc Welding- Hands on, Soap Making, Cheese Making, Growing Vegetables Year Around, Wild Game Dressing in the Field, Raising and Processing Pastured Poultry, Palatability Control Points for Direct Marketed beef, pork and lamb, Plethora of Pasture and Forage Classes, Chain Saw Maintenance, Beginning through Advanced Specialty Canning, Frisbee Dog Training, Marketing Small Businesses, Cider Making, Honey Bees, Raising Beef, Sheep, Swine, Goats, Spinning, Weaving, equine classes and more.

How can you resist? Get yourself over to the Skagit County Extension website and register asap, as I understand the classes fill fast.

What I Learned At Summer Camp

WiltshireCross Well, not summer camp exactly. But I just got back from a four-day trip to Corvallis, OR to attend the Katahdin Hair Sheep International Expo and Sale. I really enjoyed it, they had great farm tours, speakers, and a sheep sale. I bought a few sheep too! I’ll try to write about the highlights, as best as I can capture all that I absorbed there.

Continue reading “What I Learned At Summer Camp”

Goodbye Teflon

browniesinskilletIt has been a goal of mine for several years to swear off non-stick cookware. I believe that the potential health risks are just too concerning. Knowing that people have killed their pet birds by accidentally leaving a non-stick pan on the stove, creating toxic vapors, just makes me wonder what it does to me.

And, the warnings that come with these skillets- to never use them on high heat- worry me too. Who can cook without ever going above medium heat? I feel that even using great caution with the pans still leaves the risk that molecules of non-stick chemicals are making their way into my food, every day, in small quantities. There are so many chemicals in our environment that we cannot avoid or control, I want to minimize the ones I can control.

So, we’ve been building an inventory of cast iron and stainless steel pans over the last year. Thus far, I prefer the cast iron, it seems easier to clean. It works great for baking- I’m tending to choose my 12″ skillet for brownies (shown in the photo) and cornbread over a 9″ square baking pan. The cast iron makes a nicer crust, and the product comes out clean and easily.

We’ve adjusted well enough to the new pans to have finally given away our old Teflon pans to a charity. The only trouble we’re still having with the cast iron is cooking delicate things, like fish and eggs-over-easy. They stick to the pan too much, and scraping them off the bottom gives them a rough, unattractive appearance. Teflon clearly wins in performance here. Anyone have suggestions on ways to cook fragile foods in non-non-stick cookware?

What I was suprised to learn is that cleaning cast iron isn’t as much work as I thought it would be. After the pan has cooled a bit, I give it a good scrub with a metal scrubber under hot water. I pat dry, then apply a thin film of olive oil, spreading it with a paper towel. We keep a bottle of olive oil out on the stove, with a pour spout, so oiling the pans to keep them from rusting is easy. Next, I’d like a nice over-the-stove ceiling rack on which to hang them. Since we use them almost every day, I leave them sitting out on the stove. But it’ll be nice to have a better place to store them sometime in the future.

Emmer Flour and Products

A while back, I read in one of WSU’s alumni magazines a feature on a family farm in the Methow Valley where they are raising emmer (aka farro). Emmer is an ancient variety of wheat that is staging a comeback. I was intrigued. I like supporting family farms, especially local ones, and eastern  WA is about as local as a grain grower gets for me. 

I am also wary of all of the modern, hybridized food plants upon which we now depend. I cringe at some of the new “innovations” out there– like my neighbor uses that “Roundup Ready” corn variety, so they can use herbicide with abandon all season right on the food crop- yech! When I see someone reviving any kind of heritage breed of plant or animal, I give a silent cheer. The interesting thing about emmer is that it promises to be tolerable by many who are normally gluten intolerant-nice!

So, I was eager to give emmer a try. You can check out this family’s products here: Bluebird Grain Farms. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I figured maybe it would be some dowdy old grain with poor flavor or texture. But boy am I impressed! The whole grain berries are fabulous cooked according to the package instructions- boiled for an hour in broth, then lightly sauteed with some oil, garlic and herbs. They have a nice flavor and a hearty, chewy texture. Compared to bland modern wheat, emmer has a much more robust flavor.

The flour is also lovely– it has a very slight graininess to it that makes a wonderful texture in baked things. So far, I’ve made waffles and biscuits out of it, they were both very nice. Kirk noticed the difference in the waffles immediately, not knowing what I had changed, and commented how much more tasty they were than the last time I’d made them.

Strawberry Rhubarb PiesThis weekend, we had friends over for a BBQ, and I used the emmer flour for pie crusts in Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. That didn’t go so well, I think the emmer’s gluten quality, or maybe low gluten, just didn’t give enough stretch to the dough to make it workable. There was no way I could do the quarter-fold method to get the crusts centered in the pans, it would just break anywhere it was folded (and possibly my use of butter + coconut oil instead of Crisco-type grease didn’t help either, but that has worked ok for me in the past with white flour). So I had to more or less just fling the dough into the pans, and settle for an unwoven lattice top. It did mush together well enough that I was able to cobble together reasonable fluting.

The pies also turned out dark- the emmer flour is light colored in the bag, but develops a deeper brown in cooking, so they don’t look very traditional. They were still tasty, but I think I’ll go back to white flour for pies in the future.