Growing nutrient-dense sustenance while regenerating our landscape

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Permaculture Design Course Guest Instructor

Permaculture Design Course Guest Instructor

Paul Wheaton of invited me to be a guest instructor at the upcoming Homesteaders Permaculture Design Course (PDC) he is hosting in Missoula, MT.  I will be speaking on pasture management, rotational grazing, managing the abundance of the homestead harvest, etc.  If you’ve been thinking about taking a PDC, you should consider attending this event.  Alan Booker is the lead instructor and is a really switched-on permaculturist.

Click the link for additional information and registration:


Paleo Blueberry Muffins

Paleo Blueberry Muffins

This summer, our friend, Rebekah, gave us an awesome gift for grain-intolerant: cassava flour. Since then, we’ve made a small handful of yummy baked goods with it: cupcakes, muffins, and even a pizza, and today, we’d like to share our recipe for paleo blueberry muffins!

These are the perfect treat for a snowy Saturday morning, and they’re easy to make.

You get lots of taste and enjoyment from eight simple ingredients!

  • One stick (half a cup) of softened butter (if you don’t like any dairy, you can replace it with coconut oil)
  • Three large eggs
  • Half a cup of honey
  • One teaspoon of vanilla
  • Half a teaspoon of salt
  • Half a teaspoon of baking soda
  • One-and-a-half cups of cassava flour
  • Two cups of frozen blueberries

These are easy to make. We softened the butter and then mixed it for several minutes in our stand mixer with the eggs and honey.

Then, we added the vanilla—we love the smell. It’s a favorite at our house.

When the liquid ingredients were super smooth, we mixed in the salt and baking soda very well—we wanted them evenly distributed.

Then—and this is a really good way to avoid having a white cloud of cassava flour coating everything in your kitchen—we poured the cassava flour into the mixing bowl slowly. Once it was in, we folded it into the liquid mixture and gave it a gentle stir before turning the mixer back on.

After a minute on a medium speed, the mixture was smooth once again, and we then used a spoon to fold in the two cups of frozen blueberries.

We used the same spoon to fill up the cups—just to the top—of the muffin pan. We have a pre-seasoned cast-iron pan from Lodge—it cooks very smoothly, and we’ve had great results—if treated properly, cupcakes and muffins don’t stick, which is fantastic.

We cooked the muffins at 350 for about 20 minutes and took them out when the tops were golden-brown. The 1.5 dozen muffins that this recipe makes don’t last long in our house, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

On Goals

On Goals

On Goals – by Ashley

It’s January 2nd here on the farm, and it’s cold and very beautiful. The days are short, and our outside activities are focused on feeding our animals (Daniel) and exercising (me, hah!), so we have plenty of time to work on our plans for the coming months.

Like a lot of you, we spent a few hours yesterday making a list of our goals. (Check out our list of goals here.)

There are two schools of thought regarding making plans: the first is that goals provide us with the criteria we use to measure success; the second is that it is silly to make plans, because things always go wrong, and little is in our control, anyway. (Ever heard the saying, “When you make plans, God laughs”?)

My own philosophy takes the best of both, and even adds to it: I think that good goals have a handful of key elements:

  1. They’re expressions of our desires–the things we want to do—as well as the things that we know that we need to do
  2. They also build on our existing skills and accomplishments—they’re not totally random.
  3. They will create learning opportunities that we need

There’s also a big difference between a goal and a resolution. Goals are forward-looking—resolutions are the opposite. I don’t know about you, but most of my resolutions are to stop doing things that are bad for me, like drinking too much coffee, buying clothes I don’t need, and gossiping. (No shame if you enjoy those things. They feel good! But: everything in moderation.)

Now that we have that sorted out, I’d like to talk a little bit about a few of our goals.

If you watched the video of our goals for the farm for this year, you might be underwhelmed, unless you also enjoy discussions of frost-free hydrants and vegetable garden design. In my opinion, while our goals for sure aren’t exciting, they’ll add a lot of value to our farm and make it easier to operate it. We’re not adding any animals this year—but we are building on our successes from last year, and we’re doing things that will reduce the amount of time we (by “we”, I mean “Daniel”) spend in repetitive, non-value-added activities. Like schlepping water across the farm. (Yes, it’s as awful as it sounds.)

Why the boring goals? Simple: we got smarter, and we analyzed what did work, what didn’t work, and what we need to do to meet our larger goal, which is for the farm operations to be zero-cost. Which means that we don’t bring in hay and that the lambs that we sell pay for the cost (amortized!) of our breeding stock and the infrastructure we have put in place.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that we might fail! We might have another drought and have to bring in hay. We have no idea what the weather will be like next summer, but we’ll do everything we can to prepare appropriately for it so that we have a better chance of success. (The list of initiatives that fail because they didn’t prepare properly is long and illustrious. Everything from the time I chopped jalapeños without gloves to Napoleon’s march to Moscow.)

We’ll give you updates on how well we’re progressing on our goals. Fortunately, they’re not very expensive, and for the most part, we can do them ourselves.

So, now for the fun part: personal goals and resolutions.

I have a few goals for this year, and since the professional goals are a little dry, here are some of my personal goals. Some of them are big and have learning curves.

  1. Publish three more short novels and start one about my father. Why am I doing this? It’s why I am here. I have been writing for 25 years, and while it isn’t great, it is something. Each of us has a unique gift and purpose. What’s yours?
  2. Start a podcast about the experience of living! One of my joys in life is having thought-provoking conversations with interesting people. The beauty of being a human is that we can learn something good from everyone we encounter. (Quite a few of you are on my list to join for an episode. Thanks in advance ☺)
  3. Focus on functional fitness—it takes a lot of strength to shovel snow for three hours–and also get back into distance running and attempt another half-marathon: before we moved to Idaho and I started traveling for work, I ran a ton and loved it. I miss it. Tess indirectly encouraged me to run more, and we live in a place that’s both flat (because no one’s knees like hills) and particularly scenic. Even short jogs around our “neighborhood” are refreshing and relaxing.
  4. Add energy to every conversation. We form connections from that energy. And when we add good energy to our conversations, it multiplies all day long. Let your light shine!

What are your goals for yourself for the year?

On Llama Wrangling

On Llama Wrangling

Penny Llama is an elegant creature: she is tall, poised, and discerning. If she were a person, she would be a prima ballerina—or an old-school librarian with cool glasses and a secret flair for The Ramones. Her presence is commanding without being pushy, and I found myself drawn to her as soon as Tess loaned her to us to guard our sheep.

My respect for her is such that I always refer to her as “Penny Llama.” It seems too familiar to refer to her just as “Penny,” and “Llama” objectifies her in a manner for which I am not qualified: I have never met another llama and know little about them. Representing her species on our homestead is a responsibility for which she seems well suited, and we’re all generally fond of her.

Yesterday, our relationship with Penny took on a new dimension. When it was time to move the sheep across the driveway and to the far northwest corner of our property, Daniel devised a maze-like laneway that snaked around the broilers, away from the Bracken Fern (#shakesfistinfrustration), and along the fence line.

Then, when everything was in place, he opened the gate to the sheep corral, and he enticed the sheep with a big bucket of peas to follow him on a new adventure. (You’ve heard all of the metaphors for sheep being followers. Well…they’re true.)

As I enjoyed the sight of Daniel and the sheep running to their new paddock, Penny enjoyed another sight: that of a sea of green grass awaiting her outside of the laneway. Little Buddy and I were primarily concerned with making sure the sheep made it into the corral, and so we (I) might not have noticed Penny wandering off.

Penny was very quiet about forging her own path. She is as stealthy as the lambs are loud and raucous—perhaps it is their contrast that makes them good companions. When Daniel had finished securing the sheep, he got Penny’s blue lead rope, and he and I tried to corner her where our fences meet so that we could get her back into the fence.

In practical terms, trying to corner a llama means that one of you follows it, and another tries to anticipate where it might run next. (There are probably fancy words for this!) All the while, you’re holding different ends of the lead rope as the llama moves around and tries to escape your notice/trap. This completely necessary and earnest scene has the absurdity of a Coen Brothers comedy, or a Larry David skit, and it looks like two otherwise productive members of society trying to play jump-rope with a llama—the players look vaguely familiar, but no one is quite certain what is going on, and you want to laugh, but it feels a little awkward.

And after ten minutes of successfully jumping and shouting around the underbrush, Penny was within grasp, and we were closing in on her—gleefully! We almost had her—until I dropped my end of the rope.

The rope hit the ground with the full force of my llama-wrangling inadequacy and complete ignorance of how to do anything with livestock/pack animals.

Why did I drop the rope? I told my husband that I didn’t know. But, I did. In my head, I very briefly had a fantasy in which I walked up to Penny Llama calmly and put my hand on her harness and told her it was time to go back into the corral. Because that’s what I used to do with my dogs, and it worked! And that’s how I relate to almost everything else in the world; with a quiet, yet firm, voice, and a rational plan of action. (Can you relate?) But, like I said—this was a fantasy.

I realized quickly that this fantasy would be hard to explain with any credibility to my husband, who was still standing in the sun in full lunch-deprived frustration, so I didn’t even try.

Instead, I apologized for dropping the rope and let the complete absurdity of the situation—and my part in it–wash over me like cheap perfume in a crowded elevator, and I resumed tromping through more undergrowth to try to get Penny to do what we wanted her to do, which was the opposite of what she wanted to do.

After ten minutes or so of hiking around the yard, we gratefully were interrupted by our neighbor, Edie, who brought some assistance, in the form of a very long rope she uses for her horses, and some commiseration. (Maybe you saw the video in which Daniel tried to help her wrangle her horses?)

After a few minutes of chatting in the hot sun and generally feeling like a failure (I speak for myself), we resigned ourselves to let Penny explore a little bit, and I went back to my work, which, thankfully, involved computers and other rational beings who had no idea that twenty minutes before, I had been acting a fool with a llama who just wanted to get some fresh grass.

When I finished my call, I dutifully went back outside to help Daniel with Penny, whom I presumed had been eating her way around the yard. I found a much different—and happier—situation, with Penny Llama in the old sheep corral, in probably the same state of being that she had been an hour before we embarked on this adventure.

“How did you get her back in?” I asked Daniel.

He responded, mirthfully, “I offered her a bucket of llama pellets. She came to me immediately.”

Of course. Eureka. Offer her a treat. So simple, obvious, and universal. Why didn’t we think of that an hour ago?

Lesson learned. In order to avoid looking like the sweaty child of a rodeo clown and whirling dervish chasing a llama, offer her a treat.

On Struggling

On Struggling

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of going jogging. This might not sound fun to a lot of you, but to me it is. The weather was perfect—probably 77—and the sky was clear. Just like last weekend, when I wanted to jog but literally did not have the strength.

Usually when I’m jogging, I think about the scenery, and watching for approaching cars, and, most often, how much longer (and farther) until I can stop. I count down the distance and the minutes, rarely going farther than the distance I have established as an appropriate maximum, and often running less than that distance.

That’s the thought that predominates: stopping early. Not jogging, but stopping, and sometimes, when I get a couple of miles away from home, I kick myself for running so far out and assume that the jog back is going to be torture, and that the only way to survive it is to suffer.

This day, though, things were different. Everything around me was very still—the grass was blowing gently in the breeze, but there weren’t any cars around. Everything just was.

So I decided that for the last mile, I would focus on every single strike of my feet on the pavement. I focused on my toe spread and striking with the ball of my foot, and lifting my knees with my quadriceps. I felt each strike pulsating through my calves and into my knees as they absorbed the impact, just grateful that they still have their original parts and seem to work without too much complaining.

And then, the unexpected happened.

I had assumed that thinking about each strike would make the last mile even more tedious. If you’ve ever tried to get into shape after being unwell—or just not exercising—you probably have experienced the “pain” of your goals being misaligned with your current state. Having not really jogged in several months, I assumed that thinking about every single foot strike would make the whole segment much more tedious than it would be if I simply were to think about something else.

Because that’s what we do when something is tedious. We think about something else. Especially when something is tedious—when it’s a struggle, which generally means we are expending any energy—we don’t want to think about it. Doing the dishes, folding laundry, taking out the garbage, watering the plants—all things we think are drudgery, so we don’t think about them. (But those are the little moments that make up our lives!)

Thus, we keep doing the same things, over and over. In my case, it is setting a goal to run a 5k in twenty-four minutes and never, ever getting there. Or saving more money. Or being a nicer person, or a better manager, or a better wife, or a more patient mother, or generally more empathetic. Or–present.

So, I asked myself this question: “If I don’t have the mental fortitude to think about each foot strike as I jog, why am I jogging? Why am I engaging myself in this particular struggle if I don’t have the discipline to pay attention to it and actually engage in it?”

The answer is simple: I assume it will be painful, or else not fun. Because it involves exerting energy, and sometimes sweating, and breathing hard, and potentially looking dumb. (Always looking dumb. No amount of neon jogging gear compensates for middle age and a red face.)

But those things are not actually painful—they’re actually opportunities for renewal and growth. Exerting energy properly produces growth and refinement. Sweating removes impurities from one’s muscles. Breathing hard also floods my muscles and brain with oxygen. Working really hard burns up all the trash in my body and cleans up my muscles and mind.

The jog turned into one of my most memorable experiences in 22 years of running, because I learned this from it: the things that I perceive as a struggle are simple learning experiences—and, struggle does not equate to pain. In fact, I felt much better after jogging than I did before. I may have looked a little worse for wear, but it felt really good. I felt light and joyful at the end. It may have been one of my only jogs in months, but it was my best jog in months.


Cider-Braised Ham Hocks

Cider-Braised Ham Hocks

The hock is an often overlooked cut of pork. It is the portion of a pig below the ham or shoulders and above the trotter.

The hock is a tough muscle, lean muscle that requires slow cooking in order to a pleasurable eating experience. Given that it is a commonly used muscle, it is full of flavor, much like the ham.

Cider-Braised Ham Hocks

: 4-6
: medium


  • pasture-raised hocks
  • 1 cup of homemade chicken stock
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes chopped
  • 1 sliced onion and some celery
  • salt
  • and a certified organic dry apple cider with no added sugars
  • 2TBS butter
  • another cup of chicken stock
  • mustard - this is organic horseradish mustard
  • a diced shallot
  • heavy cream
  • and salt
  • Step 1 1. I get things going by sprinkling salt on all sides of the pork
  • Step 2 2. I put the hocks, two at at time, in my pre-heated and oiled enamel cast iron braiser for browning.
  • Step 3 3. I sear the top and bottom of the hock Once sufficiently browned, I remove the hocks and brown the other 2
  • Step 4 4. Next, I add the onion and celery with some salt. My goal is just to sweat them, not to caramelize
  • Step 5 5. Now it is time to add the sweet potatoes.
  • Step 6 6. With the sweet potatoes slightly softened, I add the hocks back to the braiser
  • Step 7 7. I add the chicken stock ….. and then the cider
  • Step 8 8. I lid the braiser and put it into a preheated over set to 325˚F for 2 hours.
  • Step 9 While the hocks are braising I prepare the the mustard cream sauce.
  • Step 10 9. To start the sauce, I melt the butter in a saucepan
  • Step 11 10. Next, I add the shallots and a pinch of salt
  • Step 12 11. Once the shallots are sweated, I add the chicken stock. If you want a thicker sauce, only add 1/2 cup
  • Step 13 12. Now I add about three spoons of mustard
  • Step 14 13. And then I add the cream – only about 1/4 cup or so
  • Step 15 14. I just let that simmer and reduce

After 2 hours in the over, the hocks should be ready.  I am serving the hocks over sautéed cabbage.  Once plating the hock I spoon both the vegetable cider mix onto the hock as well as the mustard cream sauce.  The sauce is a little thinner than I would have liked.  This could have been reduced further or I could have added less chicken stock.

Lamb “Steak” with Winter Storage Vegetables

Lamb “Steak” with Winter Storage Vegetables

Lamb “Steak” with Winter Storage Vegetables

This is another guest recipe post from Chef Michael R. Murray of Part-Time Permies 

Choose a tender cut of lamb (rib chops, loin chops or top butt)

Marinate overnight with a small amount of fresh lemon zest, red onion/shallot slices, sprigs of thyme, bay leaf, and lightly salted and peppered.  Keep the marinade items large so you can remove them later for cooking and lightly coat the meat in vegetable or olive oil to help transfer flavor and begin a light cure.  A small dash of Worcestershire sauce or A1 can be added or even a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning based on your taste preferences.

When you are ready to cook the meat, you can either grill or sear in a heavy pan.  Re-season lightly with salt and pepper.   If you are grilling, make sure to remove as much marinating oil from the surface as possible to prevent flare ups and darkening.

Using a hot pan or grill cook until 120-125 degrees on an instant read thermometer to achieve a medium rare to medium temperature after resting the meat for a few minutes before serving.

If you are pan cooking you can remove excess grease and make a quick pan sauce with a touch of redwine or simply adding an ounce of butter and letting it brown.  When the butter smells nutty quickly add a dash of redwine or malt vinegar to the pan and take it off the burner.  Swirl the vinegar into the butter and pan drippings to create a quick and flavorful sauce.

Using your stored root vegetables or favorites like onions, beets, turnips, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sun chokes, sweet potatoes or even squash prepare them in similar sized, large chunks of 1 in. or greater.  Remove the peel where dirty or tough and choose to leave some peels on if desired.  It doesn’t take more than a piece or two of a few varieties to end up with a large bowl of cut vegetables!

Keep tougher vegetables together separate from softer ones.  In a large bowl sprinkle vegetables with salt and fresh ground pepper.  Add a touch of fresh or ground herbs like thyme and rosemary some minced red onion or shallot if you are not also roasting onions in your medley.  Optionally, I like to add some rough-cut orange or lemon zest and mustard seeds or crushed coriander seeds.  Toss the vegetable and spices with olive oil and spread on sheet pans or baking dish.  Roast at 375 for tougher items or 400 for softer items until lightly browned on the edges and softened.

Re-toss the roasted vegetable and check seasoning.  Adjust if needed and add a few drops of honey if you want a sweeter flavor.  Hold until ready to serve and gently reheat.  Add fresh chopped herbs like parsley or dill if desired.  Great to serve warm with the grilled lamb!  Also nice as a chilled or room temperature “salad”.

Variations can also include adding some apples or pears, roasting Brussel sprouts along with items like pumpkin seeds, dried fruits or nuts, chunks of bacon or smoked meat to create complex flavors.  This recipe can be very adaptable for using whatever you have around the house and adding a few extras in spices or other vegetables and accompaniments to fit the season or dish.

Chef Michael R. Murray CEC

February 2017


Braised Lamb Riblets with Coconut Curry

Braised Lamb Riblets with Coconut Curry

Braised Lamb Riblets with Coconut Curry

This is a guest recipe post from Chef Michael R. Murray from the Part-time Permies website and YouTube channel.  Thank you chef!

Note:  Use up to 0.75-1 lb. raw weight of lamb riblets per person for an entrée as the bone and inedible portion is significant but will help flavor your curry!

Braised Lamb Riblets with Coconut Curry

: 4


  • 4 lbs. Lamb riblets/breast
  • 4 ea. Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 ea. Small onion diced
  • 2 ea. Small carrots cut in 1 in. pieces
  • 3 ea. Bay leaves
  • 2 ea. Big sprigs of fresh thyme (small amount of dry may be substituted)
  • 1 tsp. Coriander
  • ½ tsp. Cumin
  • ½ tsp. Red pepper flake or whole dried chili of choice
  • 2 Tbsp. Curry powder of choice (Jamaican, Madres, etc.)
  • 8 oz. Stock (chicken, vegetable or water)
  • 1 can Coconut milk
  • ¼ bu. Fresh Cilantro leaves and stems
  • ½ ea Lime-fresh squeezed juice
  • To Taste Salt
  • To Taste Pepper
  • Step 1 Cut the riblets into portion sizes of a few bones ea. Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Sear in a heavy bottom pan until top and bottom side are golden brown.
  • Step 2 Sweat the diced onion, garlic and pieces of carrot of a minute of two in the drippings until aroma develops.
  • Step 3 Add the curry powder, cumin and coriander stirring and cooking until they foam a little or “fry out” in the oil. Add a touch more cooking oil if needed.
  • Step 4 When the curry has incorporated into the oil and fragrant watch for it to begin to separate back out of the oil or about to stick and burn to the pan. Then add the water or stock.
  • Step 5 Add the chili, bay leaf, thyme and can of coconut milk.
  • Step 6 Adjust the liquid level to just barely cover the riblets and bring to a simmer before turning to a low heat.
  • Step 7 Cover the pot and let simmer on the stove or in a 325 degree oven until the riblets are tender (about 1hr-1.5 hrs.) Add liquid if is begins to run low.
  • Step 8 Once the meat is tender remove the bay leaf thyme stems and hot pepper.
  • Step 9 Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper or even a small spoon of brown sugar.
  • Step 10 Add the chopped cilantro and squeeze of lime juice right before serving.

Be creative and adapt the recipe to your liking.  Add potatoes, root vegetables, tomatoes, sweet peppers or other items and make the braise into a stew.  Add more heat and chilies or remove them.  Add cardamom, turmeric, mustard seed/oil, or browning liquid as desired.  This is a simple Caribbean style recipe but can be adapted in many ways or prepared with SE Asian or Indian curries.

Recommended to be served with fresh steamed rice  (jasmine, basmati , or long grain)  yucca or starch vegetable to soak up all the flavors and juices.

Chef Michael R. Murray CEC

February 2017

Watch the video here:

Primal Pumpkin Pie

Primal Pumpkin Pie

Primal Pumpkin Pie from Scratch!

Two years ago, we made our first pumpkin pie from a fresh pumpkin, and we were hooked. We repeated it last year—but maybe with too much cardamom!—and this year, we’re testing out a couple of minor variations. This is a primal pumpkin pie—we use cream in it. Other people use coconut milk: use what makes you happy, but make sure it’s the right amount.
For this recipe, you’ll need a few ingredients

1.5 cups of coconut flour
Two tbs of honey
Four tbs of coconut oil—add more if your dough is too dry
Dash of cinnamon (more…)

DIY Bedside Table

DIY Bedside Table

We made our first piece of furniture for our new (small!) home. When we bought the homestead, we had different plans for the house…plans that did not include living it! One year later, after months of renovation, here we are! But, we’re here without our nice furniture from our old home—because it’s just too big for this place.
We decided that instead of buying a whole new set of furniture that likely would include some toxic chemicals and not be the exact dimensions we needed, that we would build some pieces to suit our new place. Thanks to the DIY blogosphere, we have inspired plans for making several tables and shelving units, the flagship of which is a kitchen table—the centerpiece of the home of foodies (gluttons?) like us.
After some brainstorming and enthusiastic exploration of Pinterest, it seemed prudent to start small and learn everything we can about making furniture: so, we started with a bedside table—one that’s a similar style to the kitchen table we’d like. And it turned out okay!img_6524
Check out the picture of the almost-finished product. It’s a modern night stand, so it’s very simple, structurally: just a rectangle on some legs.
We found the plans from a lifestyle blog at We built a maple table that’s 27” high, 18” wide, and 16.5” deep, and we used metal pipe fittings that are 20” high for the legs. We kept it simple: we did not stain it or seal it, but we did sand it.
We did a few things differently:
We used pipes for legs, rather than hairpin legs, because I was worried that the hairpin legs would dent our soft cork floor, and I was feeling uncharacteristically cheap. I’m not a fan of the pipe legs and will buy the hairpins next time!
We also changed the size, but out of necessity: I didn’t do some math right (hey, the first step is admitting an error, right?!), so we needed to decrease the width from 20” to 18” to get enough cuts out of our slick maple.legs
And as you can tell, we didn’t stain it, because the maple we bought is beautiful…we also didn’t use fancy nails. We use our brad nailer.
The supply list for this project is short. You might even have some of the supplies already. (more…)