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Making Sheep Feta

morning milking from two ewes

morning milking from two ewes

I’ve tried a few different recipes now on making feta, and this one by Fiasco Farm is my favorite at the moment, with lots of great pictures to boot!  As always, I just couldn’t follow the recipe 100%, but this time only made minor changes:

  1. I use MM100 from New England Cheesemaking company as my mesophilic culture.
  2. Instead of 1 teaspoon, I use 1/4 teaspoon of rennet.  You can generally use 2-5 times less rennet with sheep milk than goat or cow.
  3. For the brine, I use a whey base instead of water, and himalayan salt instead of non-iodized commercially marketed “cheese salt”, to stay in tune with our “use what is best” philosophy for our foods.  Our blocks are turning a soft rose color in their brine, and will continue to until they are eaten.  We won’t dip in for at least four weeks.  Gah!  Waiting is the pits!
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cheese curds in whey; heading into a feta

Feta is traditionally made with sheep milk.  Sheep milk makes 2.5 times more cheese per fluid gallon of milk than that of goat or cow.  We’ve made feta twice now, and both times have ended up with 3#’s of cheese per gallon and a half of milk.  In farmstead language, that’s a value of $60 for my 1.5 gallon of milks worth of cheese.  That’s amazing!

I heart homesteading, self-sufficiency, and living off the land!

winter storage of himalayan-brining feta's

winter storage of himalayan-brining feta’s

The main reason I’m writing this blog is to be a reminder to myself.  Not only for if I have a miscarriage again, but so that I know better how to serve others who go through the same.  I don’t want to sweep any of this under the rug.  I want to be able to support the gals in my life in the best possible way.

What I’ve learned from miscarriage:

One loses their marbles.  The week after this miscarriage, it hit like a freight train.  I was in a dense fog.  I wasn’t all-consumed with darkness (in fact, I was very thankful for many things during these days, including bits and pieces of the miscarriage itself), but was in a heavy, messy fog.  I had no idea I could fall in love with someone I’d never met so quickly, and feel the loss so deeply.  I knew in my head – and shared out loud – that the majority of my mental chaos was hormones shifting.  I never doubted God’s goodness.  But I guess I never see this mess play out so much after other births when we have the joy of holding our newborn on the other side, consuming our ever moment and thought.

It’s a birth of a child.  We shower new mom’s with food, gifts and love.  Doula’s and midwives visit for days or even weeks after birth.  We set up meal plans.  We borrow older children to give parents a reprieve.  If someone miscarries, it usually stops at “I’m sorry” and awkward avoiding of eye contact for a while… Until you know they’re “okay” (whew!).  It’s not the fault of others how they respond.  It’s hard to know what’s needed.  I’m guessing every family needs something different, too, which doesn’t make it any easier.  But I know this: I couldn’t think about many basic things, specifically noted here: food.  Meals would have been a huge blessing.  I’d have asked, but wasn’t aware enough at the time ’til it was awkwardly late in the game.  I definitely didn’t want to talk (or not talk).  I’d have just bawled.  Honestly, I probably would have made you a little uncomfortable no matter what.  Life (and death) is uncomfortable sometimes.

Healing takes time.  We all know that emotional and mental healing takes time, and with a myriad of techniques – so I’m not even going to touch it beyond sharing that God is the ultimate Healer, and walks alongside us and holds us as we walk through murky times.

That aside, a woman who’s given birth, whether to a wee one or a big one, is depleted of many nutrients.

Having a miscarriage seems so… Continue Reading »

A Private Thing

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A girlfriend posted this article the other day, sharing how painful it is to receive questions like: “Why don’t you have kids?”  Infertility is an ugly thing.  One that can devastate and discourage.  One that isn’t talked about much, and is rather swept under the rug.

I think the overall flavor was “just because we don’t have kids doesn’t mean our hearts don’t break on a regular basis from it.” (equally, it might be a choice for some).  Here’s what I gathered: be kind, sensitive, loving.  Know that things aren’t always as they appear.  Know that fertility & infertility are very deep, very real – often painful and scary and awesome and crazy – seasons of life.  I read it and loved the article.  I disagreed with one part: it’s NOT a private issue (sort of).  And here’s why:

I momentarily conned myself into thinking this [miscarriage] was a private matter just because no one knew.  It’s not.  No more than the birth of a healthy, fully-ripe baby would be.  No more than the death of a fully-formed family member of any age.  If I am going to stand behind life beginning at conception, then I should stand behind honestly sharing the wonderful and devastating news that another Steenbarger went to be with Jesus.  Please pray for us as we muddle through this emotionally.  Mostly, for tender, receptive, changing hearts always.

There IS a private piece to this (in/fertility).  This season (puberty through menopause) is one of the most emotionally vulnerable of a persons life, I suspect.  Whether you have 0 or 10 (people still ask: “When’s another coming?” “Your baby sure is getting old… <hint, hint>”).  There are moments in life that are more tender than others.  More intense.  More fragile.  Not everyone is invited into the secret moments, thoughts or places.  But I can’t find usually that line.  I can’t buy into it all.  I’d generally rather err on the side of sharing.  It’s who I am.  We’re not meant to live this life alone.

And so I share.  We were/are sad.  I lost my mind for a minute or two (shared here intimately).  But I never lost the truth.  And we couldn’t help but be encouraged.  What better way to contribute to a kingdom of forever?!  We are thankful for our earthly losses and voids, even when it hurts.  We would welcome more happily, but are content to be fully living in His Will in this area.  Meanwhile, we embrace others’ children as our own.  Because, after all, we are a family.

It all makes me uber thankful for my “red tent” of ladies that walk with me in ALL of the colors of all of the seasons of my life.  We are blessed.

... our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Cor. 4:16

… our inner self is being renewed day by day. 2 Cor. 4:16

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We Betray Ourselves

actions don't always depict true feelings.

actions don’t always depict true feelings.

This last year I read Lies Women Believe, a book I’d recommend to any christian lady (or fellow!), addressing the many things we tell ourselves both consciously and subconsciously that are stumbling blocks and not true, productive, or good.  On the same subject, I am shamelessly typing out and sharing with you the handout I have from last years ladies conference at our church.  Below is part was what speaker Wendy offered on the subject, hitting straight into my heart as feelings used to control me more than I wish they did, and can be a real threat to ones faith, relationships and life – I hope it blesses you!

Obstacles to believing God’s promises:

  • As women, we are weaker (emotionally). 1 Peter 3:7
  • As women, we are more easily deceived. 1 Timothy 2:11-14
  • We tend to place too much weight on our experiences. (rather than the Word of God)
  • Often our afflictions feel heavy and eternal
  • God says our afflictions are light and monetary.
  • Our afflictions are working for us an exceeding and eternal weight o glory! 2 Cor. 4:17

Prescription for pain: The promises of God

  • God promises all things work together for our good.  (Rom. 8:28)
  • God promises nothing happens outside of God’s will.  (Matt. 10:29-30)

Putting it into Practice

  • We must put forth the effort to truly believe.
  • To receive help from God’s promises we must believe (1 Peter 1:1-4)
  • We must learn the habit of preaching to ourselves.  (Ps. 42:5)

Selfdeception is the surest way to self-destruction.
Reality has a way of catching up with us. – Sam Erwin

May we always remember to keep our mind & heart in the safe place of the Cross.  Giving up ourselves (or our wayward thoughts) and believing Him, trusting always.  Not puffing ourselves up to combat our loss with equal lies, but to rely on Him as our everything.

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You can listen to Wendy’s entire message by clicking here.  Also, it’s been a year now since that conference, and is time for another!  I’d encourage you to join us tomorrow for the 5th Annual Ladies Conference.  More details here.

Without A Grocer

With all of this silly red cup nonsense going around, a great discussion came out of the zillions of posts that I didn’t bother reading.  A friend made the stronger argument that she could care less about the red cup itself, but that there are several other larger reasons why their family doesn’t support the folks who started the red cup movement (if you will).

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start if you want to make a difference with your dollar.  It’s easy to start feeling the struggle of wanting to remove support for most companies if we pick them apart to meet our standards.

Ultimately, tho’, we can’t boycott everything, especially things like, say, a grocery store… Or can we?  Below I’ve listed the places that we usually supply our family’s food needs (disclaimer: we have definitely slacked on in the last year and a half big time).  Because they are not all viable for you to put on your own table (tho’ we do sell many of the things we produce), I will follow up with a list of farms that you can purchase similar products from.

Meats

Our pork, chicken, duck, goose come from our homestead.  Salmon & tuna from fisherman out of Astoria, as well as some friends & family, when we’re so lucky.  We buy beef “on the hoof” from friends who raise beef.  We’ve always bought rabbit from our good friend up north, but will need to find someone else when we need more as he has moved.

Dairy & Eggs

We milked 2 of our ewes for 7 months last year (more next).  They supply us with enough milk during those months.  We sacrifice only enough freezer space for an additional month of milk.  We made our cultured dairy when our girls were “fresh”, including ricotta, mozarella, sour cream, cream cheese, yogurt, and feta to last us a year.  Our poultry lay enough for us to enjoy quail, duck, goose & chicken eggs most of the year, otherwise we buy from friends.  We buy cheddar & butter in bulk through a cooperative group that works together locally.

Vegetables & Fruits & Berries

In the past, we grew a lot ourselves and preserved for winter.  We heavily supplement with other local farmers’ goods, as well as nearby small markets.  We also forage for many greens.  This is one area that I anticipate doing better with next year since we’ve fallen a little off the wagon since last spring.  We buy many varieties of mushrooms straight from wild foragers.  We pick a lot of our fruits & berries nearby.  But never enough.

Grains & Legumes

We purchase most of our grains & legumes from Washington & Oregon farmers, both directly and cooperatively.  We make bread, but also purchase from local bakeries (and on the fly from the grocer or outlet).  We make noodles, but like different kinds that we haven’t mastered.  Hey!  Did you read my recent post about turning cattail into flour?!

Oils

We use a lot of butter & lard.
We purchase our coconut oil from a small company online in 5 gallon buckets.

Sweeteners

We grow minimal amounts of stevia.  We purchase local raw honey by the gallon from our dear friends that are beekeepers.  We buy maple syrup by the 6-gallon bucket from a third generational farmer in Maine.  We do purchase cane sugars still.

Coffee & Tea & Spices

We blend our own teas from wild-foraged, locally grown, or ingredients from a company in Oregon that carefully source their items.  We also obtain most of our dried herbs & spices from there.  Our fresh herbs from ours and others’ gardens.  We buy green or already-roasted coffee beans in bulk from a company in Portland, the owner who works diligently to buy directly (travels) from farmers who are using high quality practices both for the production, and the labor of their coffee.  More often than not, we’ll buy bag by bag from stands because we don’t make it into Portland for this purchase often, etc.  Over the years, we have bought several bags from a girlfriend who has a coffee tree in her back yard in Battle Ground!

Beverages

We make kombucha, water kefir… and are on a decent binge of making a lot of homemade (medicinal – with herbs – like root beer & rosehip!) sodas.  We have a plethora of locally wineries to patronize if we are needing most types of spirits.  In reality, our family mostly drinks water and tea when there’s not fresh milk (our #1 when there is!).

*****

These are the things we have have struggled to get away from a big box store (tho’ some can be purchased through cooperatives, we just haven’t well): juice, tortillas, favorite cold cereals, nuts, off/distant season veggies, chips, chartucherie, chocolate, shapely noodles…  I’m sure I’m missing several items, as we tend to drop into a grocer weekly for “needs.”  Tho’ in reality, we could easily eat off of our regional production most of the year.  It just might not look like we all have come to expect.  It’s where people go wrong when they argue there’s “not enough food” to sustain everyone.  Perhaps not the way you’ve been accustomed to.  But perhaps in a much healthier way (seasonally, wild, etc).  Chew on that.

I think the most important part is moderation.  In theory, we do the best we can do, but not at the expense of our marbles, our family, or God.  We eat fast food sometimes.  We love white bread and sugar.  We don’t judge others.  But we also know what’s better.  And try to make consistent and decent choices most of the time.

To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not to him it is sin.  James 4:17

Ultimately, though, as a friend said – and I agree with completely – “I believe God will call us to account for our stewardship of His resources.”  That could go for a lot of areas of our life – not just our bodies – and is the reason we farm/live the way we do.  Leave everything better than you started with it.

Replace Herbs

In a quest to learn more ways to strengthen my internal girlie parts, I purchased two new herbal books last week about women’s health.  It sent me on multiple quests – one of which I’ll share in my depth in my next post.  I’ll start here…

I tend to get very overwhelmed very quickly when it comes to herbs.  There are so many.  And they’re all “magical” and important and necessary and exciting.  I get a little lost.  In reading, I get way ahead of myself and learn too much, leaving little to actually be absorbed and remembered.  And I make things that our family may never need or use.  Then I heard someone say this fantastic line that kept me on point:

Replace store-bought items with homemade as you run out.

That’s it.  That’s all I needed to step back and focus.  Instead of putting all of these awesome sounding herbal recipes into hibernation at my house, we’re trying to make herbs a living part of our lives.


We are nearing the end of our aerosol can of “First Aid Spray” that we use for cuts & scratches.  A perfect opportunity to put the above guidelines to work.  I pulled out a pint of rubbing alcohol and have started a 6-week process of macerating herbs to create an anti-bacterial, pain relieving spray.

I like this.

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