I don't follow the Chinese zodiac, but no matter what anyone else tells you, this was the year of the rat. And the bird. And the mole. It is unlikely I'll be able to dig up any photographic evidence since it wasn't a situation I took pleasure in.
It began in late summer when something devoured the stem of the tomato plant I'd carefully cultivated after my husband found it abandoned in a parking lot growing out of its styrofoam cup. The tomatoes were large and perfect and green one day, the next day they were dead. The next horror was the second Carbon tomato I was waiting for. The same day it reached ripe perfection I discovered something had eaten the entire back half of the tomato. Yuck. Then the perennial kale clippings that had taken root finally were eaten to the nub.
It continued in October, when THE BIRDS arrived. They ate everything. Everything. But I soldiered on and kept planting, planting, planting in a helpless mix of desperation and optimism. A few things made it for a while. Rats and birds do not prefer plants in the mustard family, but once everything else was gone those went too. The bok choy that had somehow survived the rats' notice and outgrown the birds was decimated by moles in the same bed I had fortified with wire in the fall. They ate away the roots and left the leaves to wilt. It was crushing.
By February I was considering building cages or some kind of electrified fencing when a friend I will refer to from hereon out as the Godfather suggested the obvious. Cats. CATS!!! I needed a barn cat!
Days later I found the cutest pair of rescue cats, and adopted them for what was probably an exorbitant amount of money. It's ok, it was a good cause. We put rat poison out everywhere and it started disappearing. We ordered more rat poison, but we appeared to have reached rat/poison homeostasis.
Life is good again, and just last week I saw one of our cute little cuddly kittens tossing a dead mole around with boundless enthusiasm. It was gruesome, but it sure was beautiful.
Kidding season was upon us two months ago. It was intense. Intensely fun. My good friend bred four goats and they were all ready to kid through March. I thought it would make a great refresher course for me, and she kindly allowed me to show up for all the action. The setup was along the side of her house, and each goat got her own pen for the kidding.
Goat number one kidded so quickly I barely made it there in time. Everything went smoothly. This will be the story of the second goat, Saffron, and how tuna onigiri became the official snack of goat kidding season.
Saffron seemed to take a lot longer, but mostly because there had been no waiting at all for the first one. So we all hung out. My kids (I realize I should refer to them as children now) were so excited to see the goat babies (kids!) that they asked if they could come along too. My sweet sweet friend thought it would be ok to have them there, and the party was about to get started.
It was a rainy, wet week, and the pens along the side of the house felt like all the wind and rain had begun to tunnel in, but we tacked up blankets and tarps until things felt warmer, if not quite cozy.
That evening my husband dropped the CHILDREN off to see the KIDS. They came spilling out of the car with a few extras. A few extras, you ask?
Sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, cup of ramen, boiling water in a thermos, tuna fish, a jar of mayonnaise, rice, bowls, green onions, juice, tea for me, graham crackers, cookies, a can opener, and a stuffed animal...
The children set up shop in the adjoining pen with the doe who had kidded the week before. Let the games begin! Come what may, we were ready.
So we just hung out and waited. Most of us, anyway. My son had other plans. Out came the tuna, the green onion, and the mayonnaise. What was the plan, I wondered. Tuna onigiri. No joke, he was preparing to make tuna onigiri in a kidding stall. But if Mary could have a baby in a manger, maybe it wasn't reaching too far. Still, I apologized to my friend as he popped open the canned fish. She graciously allowed the cooking to continue as long as he promised not to attract any predators by leaving garbage or tuna juice lying around. We turned back to watching the goats.
Minutes went by, and then, "Is he trying to cut the green onions with a can opener?!?"
I shrugged feebly and looked over. "Son, is there a problem?"
"Yeah, I forgot a cutting board..."
So this is how tuna onigiri became the official snack of goat kidding season.
A drained can of tuna fish
chopped green onion
cooked rice, preferably sushi rice
Please note that you will also need a knife and a cutting board, bowls, spoons, that kind of thing. You will already have those in your kitchen, but if you're in a kidding pen, be sure to think ahead!
Add the drained tuna to a bowl. Mix in a dollop of mayonnaise, chopped green onion, and pepper to taste. I don't like too much mayo or it's goopy, but dry is bad too, so it's your call.
With wet hands, stick a finger in some salt and rub it over the palms of your hands. Pick up a scoop of rice and begin shaping it into either a triangle or a ball. Once you're mostly there, poke a hole in the center and put maybe a teaspoon of the tuna mixture in. Cover it with more rice. Continue until your rice is gone.
Now you can either wrap the rice balls in nori and eat them immediately, or you can wrap them in plastic wrap and leave them out until you're ready to eat them.
Milking is fun, but not for the first week or so. I feel clumsy all over again, the goats keep telling me I'm screwing it up, and my husband always thinks I'm hurting them. The babies cry because, let's face it, I'm stealing their milk. (Shame face!!) Still, the benefits far outweigh the trials of milking and I'm motivated by visions of fresh cheese, velvety yogurt, and custardy puddings. I'm greedy enough to push through.
But this year there was an unexpected silver lining. My daughter, who just turned 9, was determined to master milking. So every morning she went out with me and squeezed and struggled while milk dripped down her arm. We worked on the routine together, and finally settled on separate bowls. She works the left, I work the right side. It was a pain at first since it would have been much quicker to just do it all myself, but I think it was Joel Salatin who said that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Great words for a perfectionist to live by, or anyone else, for that matter!
My little girl did it! She milked her side out perfectly today, and I officially declared her a Master Milker. It's a good thing too since she drinks most of the milk.
We have only been milking for about two weeks now, and I've been getting about a quart from each goat every morning, so if I were to milk them twice a day I would be getting nearly a gallon of milk a day from two dwarf goats! But I've decided I'm a once-a-day milker. The trick with this stuff seems to be making it manageable since I'm not a farmer. It's easy to get greedy and want more, more, more- but I have to remind myself that enough really is enough.
I made my first two batches of fresh cheese, ice cream, and vanilla pudding already. The kids are pretty happy.
My plan this summer is to milk only in the mornings. Once September rolls around I can sell the babies (if I have the heart to!) and either continue milking once a day, or begin to milk twice a day since summer vacation will be over anyway.
I use blackboard lids (I might have made that name up, but hopefully you understand me) to label the jars so we can use the oldest milk up first, but everything has been very fresh. Last year I kept freezing all the milk because I thought my milk wasn't cooling off quickly enough. This year I got advice from another milker (the Godfather) that the milk actually stays fresh for a long time, but it's important to filter it right away. This was excellent advice. Now I filter the milk right at the milking stand and just put the jar in the refrigerator when I'm done cleaning up. Raw milk stays fresh for quite a long time, much longer than I thought.
I love trying new foods, cooking, and gardening. I hope to share these experiences on this site. Thanks for taking a look!