Springtime in the hills of Missouri


I really have fallen in love with our new home. We are nestled in the hills just southwest of the city. Our farm sits atop a small hill that backs up to about 500 acres of wooded land. We have multiple streams of varying size on the property. The one behind the house is small, runs when we have heavy rains and happens to be the very best thing a toddler has ever seen. It amazes me how wonderous splashing in water is to an 18 month old. We spend hours trampling through puddles and streams and creeks….and he never tires of it. Next to pudding…it’s the very best thing in his life right now!

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men…

**originally posted in Sauce Magazine

If you asked us last year where we thought we would be this spring, our answer would’ve included sheep and pigs. However, as some of you may well know, starting a small business – especially one that relies on nature – can be quite the changing game. Throw in having to take the farmhouse down to studs and having a baby, and, well, you can quite certainly place our lives in the “too busy to sleep” category.

Last season, spring’s torrential rains thwarted planting, and we were late getting the plants in the ground. Thus, we ended up only doing a small plot of tomatoes and vegetables for friends and family. We had big hopes for this planting season – along with the hope of having sheep grazing on the pastures by now and heritage-breed hogs clearing the oak groves of all the acorns they could find. Sadly, we are not where we thought we would be. The issue of pasture erosion has reared its ugly head. Along with our partners, we decided to forgo sheep and hogs this season and bring in some professional help to give us a hand with the erosion in the pastures and planting fields. Are we sad? Yes. But what’s the point of trying to create a sustainable farm if we just harm the land with our plans to have animals grazing it? So, for the moment, things are on hold.

But not all plans were a bust! With the bad often comes the good, and I’m happy to say that our pasture-raised hens and turkeys are thriving. We are now in full egg-laying mode, and both the turkeys and chickens are producing a bounty of eggs! We get upwards of three dozen fresh chicken eggs a day along with four turkey eggs.

The chicken eggs arrive in beautiful shades of blue, green, brown and white. (That is the great thing about raising Ameraucunas; the eggs come pre-colored for Easter!) The turkey eggs are larger than chicken eggs – tan with delicate, brown speckles. We do have both a rooster and a tom (male turkey) out on the pasture with the hens.

One of the turkeys has gone broody on a nest of eggs, meaning she has decided to rest on top of the eggs, keeping them warm in order for them to hatch. Fingers crossed that we will soon have some baby turkeys to put in the brooder, a heated enclosure to keep the chicks safe and warm once they are free from their shell. Our hopes are to have enough turkey production this spring and summer to supply our friends and family with delicious, free-range heritage breed turkeys this upcoming holiday season. We also hope that the rooster plays his part and that we can begin to increase our chicken production as well, as we are starting the plans for raising some chickens for meat production. As you can see, things are getting pretty exciting on the bird front.

Because of the issues in the pastures and planting fields, our garden will again only be large enough to supply our family and friends with its bounty. We were hoping to have things further along at this point, but as we are coming to find out, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men often go awry! This journey has proved to be a wonderful learning experience. Not a day goes by where we don’t find out something new about farming as well as raising chickens, turkeys and children. We continue to learn the business of starting a business and all of the ups and down associated with life on a farm. With spring comes a gentle sense of renewal. We look forward to the future and continue to work towards our family’s goal of having a sustainable farm to feed and nurture our family, friends and community. We continue to be thankful for the bounty the land has already provided both our birds and us.

Life flies by quickly when you are having fun on a farm…

Whew…I can’t believe it’s been almost 4 months since Angus arrived. Life has been nothing less than hectic and wonderful. The farm is coming along. We’ve run into some issues with the pastures that were meant to hold the sheep…they seem to be eroding due to the big spring storms of 2011…so getting sheep has been put on hold…which in turn puts our cheesemaking adventure at least a year behind. But don’t fret…we are still keeping busy. The chickens are due to start laying any day now…and the turkeys are getting to know their new Tom…so hopefully we will have free range Royal Palms to sell to friends/family come the holidays.

Simon has also decided he would like to raise rabbits…so we are doing our research on that….the gardens are being planned….putting up a hoop house this year to start seeds early and extend the growing season. I have plans for a HUGE herb garden close to the farmhouse that I’m really excited about…

All the while…Angus just keeps growing and growing…..

Where there once were two…there are are now three

Angus Karam Lerher arrived on October 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm! He decided to make is appearance one week early and we couldn’t have been more pleased. He is a lovely, happy baby boy. We are truly blessed. Being new parents has been an experience we will never forget. One filled with wonder, sleepless nights, laughs, tears and joyful, quiet moments together. We are looking forward to sharing our life with our son on the farm and much, much more.

I never knew life could be this busy….and yet….

…come November it will get even busier with the arrival of the Baby Cheese. That is what he’s been dubbed by some friends…Baby Cheese. Too cute, huh?!? Life on the farm is amazing…and difficult and exciting and scary all at once. This city girl is learning how to live in rural Missouri..slowly but surely. The weather finally broke and it looks as is Fall is finally here. Evenings spent on the back porch..watching the fire and hot cups of tea is how we’ve been ending our days this week. Morris the Cat and Sammie the Wonder Dog have learned to live in peace and harmony for the time being, so that makes for a happy family.

The house is starting to look like a home…we are getting there. The kitchen is almost finished. Just putting the base boards and crown molding up. The interior of the farmhouse has been painted. Just need to do something with the living room/dining room floor…hang the roman shades…and a few other cosmetic touches…and before you know it…voila…a cute little farmhouse. We haven’t started on Baby Cheese’s room yet. It has been demo’d…but as he will most likely be co-sleeping with us for the first couple months…we decicded to focus on the main living areas for now.

Chickens arrive in two weeks. The bull has been here for a little over two weeks. All I ever do is see him eat…I hope he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. . Maybe he’s just a private bull…

A flock of turkeys has taken to the east pastures. About 20 or so. If you’ve never seen a turkey alive…running in a field…let me just say that they are not small…by any means. They are big ass birds.

The Pawpaw’s are bearing fruit. Looking forward to trying my first pawpaw in a couple weeks….if the animals don’t get them first.

Not everything is coming up roses…don’t let me mislead you. This is a real farm..in the middle of 500 acres. With all sorts of critters….and one of those said critters appreared to have died underneath the house…somewhere that we can’t find it. But rest assured…we SMELL IT! Luckily it’s in the bathroom only. The bathroom was added onto the house well after it was built…and it was put onto a solid foundation..not a crawlspace foundation…so more than likely something got in between the wall…and couldn’t get out. I am thinking mouse…or mice. Nevertheless, it makes for a very unpleasant shower. It is getting better…slowly but surely. The other thing that kinda freaks this city girl out is the sheer quantity of Daddy Longlegs. Also known as Pholcidae. They FREAK ME OUT! And the love living on our farm…and the back porch..and the front porch…and everywhere else. There are also a ton of Harvestmen, aka Opiliones. They are also called Daddy Longlegs in our area. I’m not ashamed to admit it…they are creepy…and crawly and I don’t want them on me…but…I’m getting used to them. Some say they are a sign of a good ecosystem…which is awesome…just don’t fall on my head when I walk out the front door. .

Stay tuned for more fun fact from the farm!

Sauce Magazine – From Downtown to Down Home

Sauce Magazine – From Downtown to Down Home.

We were so happy to hear that Sauce Magazine (a local St. Louis food and bev publication) wanted to do a story on our farm adventure! It’s a beautifully written article! I hope you take the time to read it and get to know alittle bit more about how Simon and I came to the decision to move to the farm. I will be writing a monthly blog column for Sauce Magazine, keeping everyone abreast of what is happening down in Bloomsdale!

Drink beer this weekend

Go to the Brewer’s Heritage Festival….happening in Forest Park.

Drink beer for this pregnant gal….commiserate with other beer lovers and brewers.

Click here for more info: St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival

There will be awesome people there and awesome beer and tasty food.

Do it.

6 weeks behind…and counting

The torrential rains and flooding along the Mississippi have put this year’s crops back about 6 weeks. We have yet to even till the fields in preparation for this year’s garden. We are hoping that this week’s heat wave will start to dry up the fields enough for us to get a tractor on them to plow. As of right now, our main growing field is home to over a bazillion frogs. The springs overflowed into the pastures, and with it carried God knows how many frog eggs. We then watched them transform into hoards of tadpoles and now they are teenie tiny froggies…just living life in their new spot on the farm. I’m hoping they will all soon find their way back to the spring and free up our planting fields…cause if they don’t they will get smushed by the tractor. There is also quite a good amount of dead fish in the fields now as well…but the turkey vultures (and Sammie the Wonder Dog) are taking care of that problem.

The house is coming along GREAT! We are at the point of putting up sheet rock! And when I say WE…I really mean Simon and my Dad and his buddy Paul. They have done all of the work so far. My father is treating me as if I am the most delicate flower now that we are expecting the little babe.  I’m not allowed to participate in the rehab process. The ONLY thing I have been allowed to do so far is peel wall paper. And that is done. I focus my time on picking out fixtures, cabinet hardware and paint colors. To be honest….I’m not too upset. As this pregnancy progresses, I’m getting more and more limited in what I can do anyway. Bending over pulling nails is rough on this gal…I’m happy to sit this one out. But for the record…my husband is a Saint.

We have been taking as many photos as we can remember to take…one day, I’ll post them here. Until then…just know that we are on the road to farm life! We should be living there within the month…if all goes smoothly.

And if you happen to come across the June issue of Sauce Magazine…open it up…you will find a lovely article on how Simon and  I met, fell in love and decided to move to a farm!

Water Buffalo!!!!!!!!!

**Cross posted at Menuism.

All great cheese starts with quality milk. That milk can be sourced from a variety of animals, from cows (think: cheddar) to sheep (think: manchego) to goats (think chevre). Today I’m going to talk about cheese made from the milk of water buffalos. That’s right: water buffalo. How else do you think mozzarella di bufala got its name?

Now, before your imagination starts conjuring up visions of huge, mean animals with fierce horns roaming the Mekong Delta, let’s talk a little bit about the animal that produces the delicious milk we find in buffalo’s milk cheese. There are two kinds of water buffalo: wild and domesticated. Wild water buffalo are considered an endangered species, so we don’t mess with them. They are free to roam and live their lives.

The domesticated water buffalo, on the other hand, plays a significant role in many people’s diets, particularly in Asian (especially Indian) and Italian cultures. Farmers rely on water buffalo for farming, both to do the heavy work in the fields and to fertilize the land with their dung. Water buffalo are also a prized source of meat and milk in those areas. There aren’t many water buffalo in the United States, and the industry has become even more niche in recent years. One water buffalo dairy farm in Vermont recently relocated its herd to Quebec, Canada. Another farmer, who keeps a water buffalo herd in Wisconsin, is entering his second year of milking, but purposefully keeps his herd’s milk production rate low. Most of the mozzarella di bufala that we see in the US is imported straight from the traditional source: Italy.

The Origins of Mozzarella di Bufala

Like most European producers, the Italians are very proprietary when it comes to the cheese they’re known for: buffalo mozzarella, or mozzarella di bufala. Almost all mozzarella di bufala is produced under stringent regulations in only a handful of provinces in Campania, a region in southern Italy. Exactly how and when water buffalo made their first appearance in Italy is a varied tale, but there is evidence that Italian people began making cheese from water buffalo’s milk as early as the 12th century. In 1993, mozzarella di bufala earned the designation D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). What does that mean? If you see “D.O.P.” marked on your scrumptious package of mozzarella di bufala, then you know for a fact that it was produced in one of the seven regions in Italy under the stringent quality regulations pertaining to freshness, temperature and milk sourcing. In other words: it’s the good stuff.

How It’s Made

Mozzarella di bufala is made in a specific manner that is wholly unique to this cheese. So it’s no wonder that it’s an entirely different product than the mozzarella-flavored string cheese or even American-produced fresh mozzarella, both of which are most likely to be made with cow’s milk. For mozzarella di buffalo, the buffalo’s milk is curdled, then drained of the whey. (The whey is retained to make ricotta cheese.) The curd is then cut into small pieces and ground until crumbly. The curd is put in hot water, where it is stirred until it takes on a rubbery texture, then it’s kneaded until a smooth, shiny cheese is obtained. Once the right consistency is reached, the mozzarella is pulled (kind of like taffy) and squeezed into individuals knobs and placed in a brine. The flavor of the cheese is enhanced as it absorbs salt from the brine. Mozzarella di bufala is available in various shapes and sizes, from little bite-sized balls called bocconcini to large, plump mounds, to braided styles.

A Few Suggestions for Enjoying Mozzarella di Bufala

Now that you know more about buffalo’s milk cheese and how it’s made, do you want to know how to enjoy this fresh and delicious cheese? Mozzarella di bufalo is so versatile. It melts beautifully, so try finishing pizza and pastas with it. You can also try rubbing grilled bread with a fresh cut garlic clove, then topping it with fresh herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh slices of mozzarella di bufala. In the classic insalata caprese, a summer staple at my house, I pair it with fresh tomatoes and sweet basil and dress everything with extra-virgin olive oil.

Pairing Suggestions: To wash down your lovely cheese, no matter how you choose to serve (or order) it, I suggest a crisp pinot gris or rosé. Prefer beer? A light pilsner pairs nicely on a hot summer day.

Editor’s Note: Got cheese? Why yes, we do! Check out Annie’s articles All About Goat’s Milk Cheese and All About Sheep’s Milk Cheese.

THE DECK!……almost.

Simon made crazy progress on the deck this week! Old deck down…new girders up. We have decided to go with composite for the deck instead of treated wood. It took some time to decide on what type of material we would use for the deck but we ended up deciding on composite. We have a good number of trees surrounding the house and given the shape the original deck was in, we needed something that was durable and could be washed easily. Lots of birds and sap….need I say more?

So, here are some pictures of the progress. The farmhouse has been cleared of most of its contents. The dumpster is on it’s way next week….and the bathroom is next on our list. Should be awesome! Continue reading