The Animals in Winter

By the start of 2019 the farm was in a better place than last year. For one thing, the weather was not as harsh. Last year in the month of March, there were weekly snow storms, each dumping at least 2 feet of snow.  Over the winter, there were at least three brutal cold snaps that lasted for days where you never saw the red of the thermometer on the porch go above zero.  The big black farm dogs would come back limping in pain from the cold after just a few minutes outside.

Last winter, we made the mistake of getting the large round bales of hay for the goats so they could eat when they wanted, thinking we wouldn’t have the daily chore of feeding hay. Goats waste a lot of hay. The snow covered the dregs of the bales and my neighbor couldn’t get his tractor through the deep snow to move new round bales from the barn to the goat pen. I had to resort to stuffing my sedan with as many small bales of hay as I could from the feed store. By the time spring arrived, the two yearling goats were skinny because the larger goats bullied them away from the hay that I would throw over the fence from my shoveled path of waist deep snow.

When people have hayfields around here, farmers with haying equipment will cut the fields for you and take the hay to sell. It is a win-win – your hayfields are cut down and it supports the community by providing sustenance for both people and animals. If you with the hayfield have animals to feed, the farmer with the equipment is obliged to give you a percentage of the hay. This year for my percentage, I asked for square bales and I filled the barn with stacks and stacks of sweet smelling bales of hay in the heat of a sunny August afternoon. Enough to last the whole winter and it has simplified the feeding of the goats. They are in perfect condition at the end of winter.

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The farm is female. There are three goats. Ginger is the herd queen. She is a cross of Alpine and Guernsey goat. She looks like her Guernsey daddy. She has short legs and is wide like a tank. Ginger has a strut that is like a general marching. Short heavy steps with a powerful purpose. Her cream-colored horns are not straight because she got them stuck and twisted in a hay net when she was a yearling. She is haughty and aloof because she nursed from her mother and is not imprinted or obliged to humans. She will tolerate attention from people only if they can offer something she wants, especially  peanuts. Luna and Hermione were purchased by me on the first day I moved to the farm from John Hall, the famous Farmer John from the Beekman 1802 farm. The doelings were both less than 2 weeks old and they were bottle fed by me. I have saved Luna’s life on two occasions and I think she knows it and is grateful. Because of this, she is the most affectionate to me and therefore is my favorite. Luna is the largest goat and is the second in line to the herd queen. She is graceful and tosses her horned head back like a diva tossing her hair. Hermione is the lowest man on the totem pole. She and Luna are bonded but the herd queen is a bully and Hermione gets the worst of it.

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There are six hens. Two of them are little soldiers – survivors of the original flock of six Rhode Island Reds decimated by a brazen predator attack last summer. The other four are Aracaunas that were given to me at the end of the summer to make up for the loss. It was an ordeal to integrate the 2 groups without bloodshed but I was patient and did the work. They’ve only recently stopped being cliquish and have integrated as one flock. However, the two Rhode Island Reds whose turf it was originally, rule the roost – they are the queens in that bunch. They do separate in the evening with the two Rhode Island Reds roosting up together and the Aracuanas pairing up to sleep. Two of the Aracuanas are big hens that are many shades of  rust colored and have feather pouffs coming out of the sides of their cheeks so they look like lions. One is a cream colored speckled hen who has a loud voice and the other is a light rust color with a beautiful fan tail of blue grey feathers. She is the last man on the totem pole in the pecking order. The bitch of the flock.

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Ducks

There are six laying ducks. These I raised from two- day old ducklings and I never saw anything grow as fast as a duck. There are two Blue Indian Runners, elegant grey creature who lay blue eggs. Two Black Cayuga, a New York State breed who lay grey colored eggs and two Welsh Harlequins, cream colored speckled ducks who lay a pinkish cream colored egg. They are a tight knit flock and I have not been able to discern any signs of dominance in the group.

The birds are shut in the barn for the winter. Everybody has an indoor living area  separated by chicken wire. They can all see each other. The goats are the only ones with access to the outdoors during winter by way of a door in their stall cut into the side of the barn and they can hang out in their fenced goat pen.

Everyone is healthier this being the second winter, not only do I have more experience but I also learned from last years troubles and created better systems. Example – last year when I brought the ducks out from the barn to their outdoor quarters in spring, their heads were sticky because I had only provided shallow rubber pans with water and they were not able to properly dunk their heads as they are wont to do. Last year, I only had deep plastic buckets which cracked with the water froze overnight. This year I used a deep rubber bucket for their water and the first thing they do in the morning when I fill their bucket is to drink and dunk their heads in and splash about. Then they preen themselves. It is their winter water routine as they don’t have their swimming pool and pasture.

We will probably see only a couple more weeks of winter. Already there are signs of spring. Yesterday, the red-winged blackbirds arrived and this night I heard Canada Goose honking in the clouds. 

On the Cusp of Spring

When I looked at this blog I was a bit shocked to see that it has been 2 years since I’ve written here. I posted about knitting a quilt for my daughter for college and I did it out of guilt because I was woefully late on that too. Before that, it was months since I’d posted. Sometimes you just need to hole up. When you go through a transition – when you move from one self to another self- you gotta hunker down, focus – keep your eye on the ball and not disperse energy. Even if sometimes that energy gives you joy. Concentrate on getting your footing and get yourself out of the situation. One foot in front of the other – forward march.

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We are people of extremes as my daughters like to say. We like extreme urban or extreme rural, not the grey pasty normal of suburbia. So I decided to buy a farm – for many reasons. It was the necessary path to take. It felt like the only viable path for the times. So I’m splitting my time between the Loisaida homestead and a 21 acre homestead in Schoharie County in upstate New York. There is a white farmhouse that was built in 1800. In the basement you can see 200 year old bark covered logs with their ancient axe marks that are the foundation beams of the house. There is a green barn that houses 4 goats, 5 hens and 6 ducks, all girls. Animals that inhabit the farmhouse include the 2 New York City Toy Fox Terriers Lolo, s spry 17 years young and the no-eyed Mille, Then there are the two big young black lab mix rescue dogs Rowan (who belongs to one of my daughters) and Maybelle who just turned one. There is the feral cat that I adopted to be a rat killer barn cat who could not hack it in the barn and who now occupies a bedroom to herself – story to come.

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I will keep the blog title of Loisaida Nest but I will write about the farm too, which will now be my main focus as there is lots of work to do and things to learn. I will however continue to share stories and photos of my beloved Loisaida.

At the edge of spring we are still under snow after 3 Nor’easters dumped more than 4 feet on us in a month. The days are getting longer and my flock of birds have started laying in earnest. The 8 month old ducks have laid their first eggs. The first eggs of the Black Cayuga ducks were charcoal black and looked like stones. Now they are becoming a a lighter mottled grey.

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My first dish made with duck eggs was an egg salad. Duck eggs have more yolk so the egg salad was very rich.

SAVORY DUCK EGG SALAD

4 hard boiled duck eggs (or 6 hard boiled chicken eggs)

1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot

1/2 teaspoon capers

1 teaspoon chopped Kalamata olives

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 squirt of Siracha (or other hot sauce if you like a little heat)

Chop up the eggs and mix all the ingredients together.

the equestrian chronicles part III

One year later. Time heals. Work heals. Trials make you strong. Love makes you fly. Loyalty cocoons a person. I am grateful.

A photo essay of Camelia Montalvo teaching dressage to her long-time students at La Luna Farm. La Luna Farm is a top-notch equestrian facility specializing in hunter/jumper training in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Camelia Montalvo teaching dressage lesson La Luna Farm, New Paltz NY

Abby’s lesson in the indoor ring at La Luna Farm

Camelia Montalvo teaching dressage lesson New Paltz, New York

Camelia Montalvo dressage instructor New Paltz, New York

Camelia Montalvo dressage instructor New Paltz, New York

Camelia Montalvo dressage instructor New Paltz, New York

Jordan’s lesson

Camelia Montalvo dressage instructor New Paltz, New York

Camelia Montalvo dressage instructor New Paltz New York

Camelia Montalvo at La Luna Farm

La Luna Farm in New Paltz, NY

The cedar barn at La Luna Farm

 

the wild mothers

I meant this post to be for Mother’s Day and I’m a little late. However, it is still spring and a time to celebrate all mothers – especially Mother Nature.

I remember when my children were very small I had a plastic window box for flowers outside my kitchen window. In early spring when it was still empty, a pigeon made a nest in it and laid her eggs. One day there was a spring snowstorm and the little bird continued sitting on her eggs. Every once in a while she would fluff up her feathers to shake off the snow. Then the snow turned into a cold rain and still she sat there like a little soldier without moving. I watched and worried. Her motherly instinct would not let her abandon her babies. I understood her. I could see that the window box was starting to fill with water. When the rain did not let up and the water had reached her chest, I could stand it no longer. I took a chance and opened the window. She did not move. She was accustomed to seeing us very close to her through the kitchen window. I took a kitchen knife and cut holes into the plastic window box to let the water drain out. She let me get that close and still did not move. Did not abandon her eggs. I looked into her orange pigeon eyes and thought her the bravest of mothers. One egg hatched and we saw up close how she raised her baby. I would hoist my girls up to sit on the kitchen counter so they could see the window nest as the mother pigeon fed her chick and then later the flying lessons from the kitchen window box  to the bedroom window box. Back and forth the fledging practiced and then one day was gone. It was a successful nest.

I became a live stream nest watcher when the City Room blog of the New York Times featured a camera pointed at the nest of the red-tailed hawks of Washington Square Park in New York City in the spring of 2011. There was high drama on that nest because the mother had a band on her leg that was put on too tight and her leg was swollen. An effort to capture her was planned. But then it was decided that it was too risky to attempt because the little fluffy white eyas (hawk chick) named Pip would freak out and maybe fall off the building ledge nest. Nature took its course and Violet was an excellent mother. We could see her on camera struggling with her lame leg while she fed scraps of rat meat to little Pip. Responsible and valiant, she hung on until her offspring left the nest and only then did she succumb to her injury.

Christo and Dora are our neighborhood hawks. Their hunting ground is Tompkins Square Park. Last spring they made a successful nest and raised three baby hawks on an air conditioner at the Christadora apartment building across from the park. This year they’ve moved their nest to another air conditioner,  this time on the Ageloff Towers on Avenue A. Their three eggs have hatched and we are now seeing the fluffy white baby hawks on a nest cam. Laura Goggin is a neighborhood photographer who has followed the hawks and shared her beautiful photographs on her blog Gog in NYC. I’m struck by the generosity of the neighbors who install a nest cam to share their view of the nest with us. Here is the link to the nest cam for Christo and Dora’s nest.

Dora at the Ageloff nest. Photo: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora at the Ageloff nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora and babies last year at the Christadora nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Dora and babies last year at the Christadora nest. Photo courtesy of: Laura Goggin Photography

Now I’m watching a different kind of animal, a critically endangered red wolf on the den cam at the Wolf Conservation Center in New York state. Salty gave birth to a litter of seven pups on May 2nd. It is a window into a wild world. On a warm night I can see that she is fast asleep. Her sides softly rise and fall with her breath. Her sleepy dark puppies are clustered close to her with their bellies full of milk. The cacophony of bug song has died down too from earlier in the evening when they were thunderous. Sometimes you can hear the other wolves howling. I feel very privileged to be able to witness these wild animals. Here is the link to the live den cam.

 

the year in books – april

The Year in Books is a project started by Laura of the Circle of Pines Trees blog that anyone can join. The aim is to make more time for books by reading at least one per month. For March I read The Omnivore’s Dilema. What an eye-opener. I thought I was a conscious person about eating well but after reading this book, I realized that I could do a lot more. This is a must-read for everyone. I’m lucky that I have resources for food that is grown/raised responsibly. In the summer when we are at our rural homestead, we eat grass-fed meat from pastured animals from local farms and eat vegetables grown without pesticides from our neighbor’s gardens. In New York city, I have been ordering meat and produce from local farms thanks to an online farmer’s market called Farmigo that let’s you shop for food on their website and then you pick the bags of groceries from a neighborhood drop off point once a week. I also shopped this way in the country through Schoharie Fresh. They even sell homemade pie and yarn from a sheep farmer. This seems to be a new model for the distribution of food from local farms to consumers. I think its a brilliant use of technology and I hope it spreads.

For April, I’ve picked up H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I was sold by this review. I follow blogs about the urban hawks in New York city. I think birds of prey are fascinating .

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In keeping with the goal of buying the monthly books only from independent stores or borrowing from the library,  I went to McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore on the eastern edge of Soho. It is a lively well organized bookstore with a cafe and many events. I’m excited about starting my new book.

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sugar time

In New York City, its pot hole season, this time between winter and spring when the streets are pitted with holes from the ice and salt of winter. Not romantic. You have to watch out for the holes when you are on your bike. In the country, it is mud season. Also sounds not romantic except that it is sweet and magical because it is also the time for maple sugaring. I have visited my daughter at her college in Vermont when the snow is melting and the sap starts flowing in the maple trees.

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

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As I’ve always said to my daughters, there is nothing more energizing or more beautiful than to be amongst people who think they can change the world. Oona’s college is such a place. Sterling College is one of the seven colleges in the Work College Consortium, a tiny school with a big community spirit dedicated to environmental stewardship. The students work with both their hands and their minds. They have a farm. They eat the food they grow. They have their own sugar house where they process the sap collected from the maple trees and turn it into maple syrup. In the small village every maple tree you see has buckets attached to collect the sap.

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the sugar house at Sterling College

the sugar house at Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

It is vital to support small farms and the people who are working them where ever they are. And so…

Our dear friend Rob Handel, Chef at Heather Ridge Farm in Schoharie County, New York generously sent me these maple recipes to share with you. Thank you Rob.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

4 Tbs Dijon mustard
5 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs pink peppercorns
6 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brewed tea
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
optional – 1 tsp summer savory

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified. Store in the fridge for up to one month.

Maple Parsnip Chutney (Chef Rob says this chutney is fabulous on pork, chicken and cheese)

3 Tbs butter
1 diced onion
2 cups diced parsnip (1 to 2 parsnips)
1 apple peeled and diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cracked coriander seed
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a medium sized skillet and add onions, parsnips and salt. Cook over medium low heat until well caramelized about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until everything is softened and most of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Maple Panna Cotta

Chef Rob says: This panna cotta recipe only involves 10 minutes of prep time, can be made in a single pot and it is fabulously rich. Here we go.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla or 1 Tbs rum
1 package (1 Tbs) unflavored gelatin
pinch of salt

Place milk in a medium sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved and pour into molds. Allow to set for at least 2 hours or prepare ahead and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

1/2 c popping corn
2T maple syrup
2T rendered bacon fat
2T brown sugar
2tsp salt

Combine all ingredients except salt in a stovetop popcorn popper and stir over medium low heat until the popcorn begins to pop. Keep stirring vigorously until the popping slows. Immediately tip into a large bowl and toss with salt, adding more if necessary

the year in books – march

I enjoyed my February read “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp” by Richard Hell, an engrossing memoir set in New York city in the 70’s and 80’s. Its a history of downtown New York culture of the time when young people were free to live without the tethers of responsibility and moved through the streets with the freedom and loping grace of wild animals in a natural habitat. One of my favorite passages was the last one in the book, “My life is not different for having written this book – my life only comes into being by having been written here. What I have been given and what I have been and what I have and what I and what – all are only to the extent they all are only to the extent all are only to the all are only to all are only all are all. We know that we are constructed of time, not of sequence, and it is impossible to write time “not of sequence,” except maybe in poetic flashes. I didn’t want to write about a person through time, but about time through a person.”

For my March book, I decided to visit the new bookstore in the neighborhood. Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks was priced out of its West Village home and the happy ending to the all too familiar New York story is that some book lovers offered to rent her space in the basement of their family townhouse in the East Village. And so, another bookstore has survived in New York City. On a very snowy Sunday afternoon, red-cheeked and with snow encrusted eyebrows, my friend Katy and I entered the warm and homey store.  Bonnie Slotnick welcomed us by pointing out where the radiators were so that we could warm up first. What a charming and inviting bookstore. I felt like I was in someone’s home, albeit a person with a lot of bookshelves. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks specializes in Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Cookbooks.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

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I picked out a 20 year old cookbook from the Florida Keys with lots of recipes for fish and rum cocktails. Standing there in my wet snow boots reading tropical recipes ringed with illustrations of palm trees felt good. I searched for a proper book for my March read and found “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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