Spring Cleaning

As the warm weather lazily ­rolls in on the Cwach farm, it’s finally time to start on the best (and worst) project of the year: Spring cleaning.

After a lengthy hibernation, I’m itching to tackle the outdoor elements of the farm, having neglected much of it over the course of the winter. There are dead leaves to rake out of the bushes, seed bags that have blown into the shelter belts, and the never-ending barrage of odd shoes and pails that our Australian Shepherd, Bodie, has taken to scattering around the surrounding acres of our farm.

An annual farm clean-up has always been important on the Cwach farm. Dan’s late father, Gary, impressed upon him at an early age the importance of keeping a tidy farm. It’s a never-ending task, to be sure – especially when you have a hoarding canine squirreling away his treasures in every last nook and cranny – but one that I think is important on any farm. Depending on the weather and the year, you may not always be able to control how your fields look (particularly on an organic farm likes ours where you can’t spray pesticides to keep weeds down) but you can always make the extra effort to keep the farm clean and orderly.

Knowing I would soon be spending the majority of my time outdoors cleaning up the farm, I have worked hard over the winter to prep the inside of our farmhouse by purging and organizing. Even though we have only lived on the farm for two short years, it’s amazing what we have already accumulated. Of course, some of it we inherited when we moved in to the farmhouse when Dan’s mom decided to move to town. We’re still trying to downsize and sort through unnecessary items, like the oversupply of seed hats from the past three decades (I hate to break it to the seed companies, but once a farmer breaks in a hat, that’s the only hat he’ll wear, no matter how shabby it becomes) and the hundreds upon hundreds of old mason jars waiting to be filled and canned (to my dear mother-in-law: I’ll never know how you found so much energy as a farm wife! Netflix clearly wasn’t around in your day.)

Luckily for me, Dan isn’t much into hanging on to things he doesn’t use, with the exception of any and all Yankton High School memorabilia – that stuff is non-negotiable. Some days, I truly worry that he will make good on his promise and make me sit through all the VHS tapes of his high school football days. But Dan has come to terms with the fact that it’s difficult to be a packrat and still stay on top of the daily chores, like the heaping mounds of laundry that just never seem to end. Laundry is always an interesting chore on the farm because you never quite know what you’ll find in your farmer’s pockets – handfuls of corn kernels (why so many? How do they end up there?), tools, fencing staples, sale barn booklets, ear tags and more. I do actually enjoy it though, despite my protests, because it paints a little picture for me of what my farmer was doing that day.

We’re still trying to downsize and sort through unnecessary items, like the oversupply of seed hats from the past three decades (I hate to break it to the seed companies, but once a farmer breaks in a hat, that’s the only hat he’ll wear, no matter how shabby it becomes) and the hundreds upon hundreds of old mason jars waiting to be filled and canned (to my dear mother-in-law: I’ll never know how you found so much energy as a farm wife! Netflix clearly wasn’t around in your day.)

Admittedly, I probably place some undue extra pressure on myself and Dan when it comes to housekeeping since we are now living in my husband’s childhood home. This is a situation many farm wives find themselves in, as one generation moves off the farm and another takes it over. Luckily for me, I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law, and besides, she’s already witnessed my worst domestic blunders. Once, I offered to help her clean before a party, long before my husband and I were married. As I loaded the dishwasher, I added what I thought was liquid dishwashing detergent, but what turned out to be regular old dish soap. This was only discovered once the dishwasher started emitting a huge bubbly mess at least two feet high while still running.

Another time, after we had just moved to an older, historic apartment in town, which lacked a washer and dryer, I had brought over a load of laundry to the farm as Dan worked late one night, as I often did. Unfortunately, we had just had our first (and hopefully last ever) bout with ants. I had a damp wash cloth in the laundry basket, and thought nothing of it until my mother-in-law picked it up to throw it in the washer, and – ANTS! I’ve never ran as fast as I did when I raced to grab that vacuum cleaner. Farming together creates a whole new level of closeness, as most farm families can testify, but there’s nothing quite like an ant scare to really bring you into the fold of your new family.

While we’ve got a lengthy list of projects facing us this spring, it’s rewarding work that will help us keep up the farm for the next generation. And if anyone’s looking for an assortment of half-chewed, mismatched shoes, let us know- we’ve got a few to spare.

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Scharffen Berger Cocoa Brownies

There’s nothing more frustrating than slaving over homemade baked goods only to think, “The box tastes better.”

Yet it’s something I still run into more than I’d like, even as a fairly seasoned cook. When it comes to food, I prefer to be a bake-from-scratch kind of gal, which means my creations often end up a bit more time-consuming and expensive. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that baked with love doesn’t always translate into better flavor, which is why I tend to get a little miffed when a new from-scratch baking project doesn’t come out just right. After all, who wants to lose a blind taste test to a box where you just add a couple of eggs and oil? Or even worse, a sweet that has sat on the shelf for months?

I should note that, though I’m all about so-called “real food” ingredients now, I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I remember a classmate bringing delicious-looking store-bought snack cakes daily in her lunch box. At the time, I was insanely jealous and constantly looking for an opportunity to trade for those sugary snacks (funny how mushy tater tots aren’t worth much in a lunch room trade). But today, I look at those brand-name chocolate snack cakes and all I can see are the 40-plus ingredients – seriously, I counted – most of which I can’t pronounce. On the rare occasion that I eat one, I’m immediately disappointed and my sweet tooth is left unsatisfied.

It seems to me that desserts like brownies shouldn’t need a lengthy ingredient list- they should be simple, the way grandma used to make them. Flour, sugar, butter, some type of chocolate, salt, eggs and vanilla. Maybe walnuts if you’re feeling crazy. That’s about it. But too many times, I’ve whipped up a batch of homemade brownies only to be disappointed in the end result. In my mind, the perfect brownie should be rich and fudgy but with a chewy texture, not gooey or overly cakey. They should have the texture of boxed brownies but with a much richer, more decadent flavor.

These cocoa brownies hit the mark on both taste and texture. They pack a deep chocolate flavor without being cloyingly sweet like many store-bought baked goods, and are fudgy without feeling undercooked. Even better, you can make them in one bowl and prep them in 10 minutes or less.

While you can use any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder in this recipe, I recommend splurging on a top brand— for these brownies, I turned to Scharffen Berger, an American artisan chocolate manufacturer that makes its chocolate in small batches. After all, when you’re only using seven ingredients, they should be the very best. Two 6-ounce containers of Scharffen Berger unsweetened natural cocoa powder run approximately $20 online, which isn’t cheap when you consider the price of a box of brownies, but believe me when I say it’s worth it.

These classic brownies may seem simple, but what they lack in ingredient complexity they make up for in intense, chocolaty decadence. Serve with an ice-cold glass of milk or with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. If you feel like making these a gift, you can layer the dry ingredients in a mason jar and seal, but if you’d prefer not to share, who could blame you?

Scharffen Berger Cocoa Brownies

Ingredients
Nonstick spray
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1” pieces
1 ¼ cups sugar
¾ cup Scharffen Berger natural unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8x8x2” glass baking dish with foil, pressing firmly into pan and leaving a 2” overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray; set baking dish aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let cool slightly. Whisk sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl to combine. Pour butter in a steady stream into dry ingredients, whisking constantly to blend. Whisk in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. Add flour and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Scrape batter into prepared pan; smooth top.

Bake until top begins to crack and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 25-35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool completely in pan. Using foil overhang, lift brownie out of pan; transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

Source: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/cocoa-brownies-51134540

Never a Dull Moment

Just when I think life on the farm might pause for a moment, we inevitably find ourselves with a jam-packed schedule and more projects on our hands than we know what to do with.

In my mind, I’d been looking forward to late February and early March as a time that might not be too busy on the farm, as our regular cattle herd doesn’t calve until April and planting won’t start until May. Maybe we could take that time to have a little romantic stay-cation, I told Dan (or, to be more honest, go through our storage space before springtime responsibilities hit).

But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that farmers aren’t very good at resting and there’s never a slow moment, which means a farmer’s wife finds herself busy as ever, even during the “slow” season.

Though we had just crossed off a major accomplishment of selling last year’s calf crop, we were already well on our way of calving the 17 heifers Farmer Dan bought in December. For those who didn’t grow up on a farm, heifers (first-time moms) need some special attention just like any new mom, which means every night Dan wakes up at least twice during the middle of the night to check to see if any new calves were born or if a heifer needs help calving. If a calf has been born, he makes sure that mama and baby are warm in the barn, and that the calf has been licked off and claimed by its mother. If a heifer is struggling to calve, he pulls out the calving straps and prepares to assist if necessary. Those first few hours are critical to the livelihood of the calf, as it needs the colostrum in its mother’s milk for immunity and the shelter from the cold during those first delicate hours.

But if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that farmers aren’t very good at resting and there’s never a slow moment, which means a farmer’s wife finds herself busy as ever, even during the “slow” season.

Being the kind soul that he is, Dan has not (yet) asked me to split up these nocturnal duties, but I’m convinced that these late night excursions to the barn are affecting my sleep anyway, leading me to have crazy conversations with Dan after he returns to bed. One night, I sat straight up in my sleep and turned to Dan, who had just come inside from checking calves, and frantically asked if he had put the macaroni and cheese in the oven. Trying to keep a straight face, he assured me he had. The next night, I demanded to know where the drawings were, and strongly vocalized my disbelief when Dan told me they were in the drawer. (I still have no idea what drawings I was looking for, but they sound fascinating. If only they were really in the drawer!)

In addition to the calves and serious late-night mac n’ cheese discussions, we’ve also been busy buying a new bull and getting it acclimated to its new home on the farm. On its first day on the farm, the bull decided that the cows across the fence looked pretty enticing, and somehow Macgyvered a way to open the gate to join his new love interests. On one hand, we were thrilled that he seems to really, really like the cows (a great relief when you spend thousands on a stud bull), but on the other hand, it only took a couple of hours for him to get into all sorts of hijinks. I can only imagine what this spring will hold for us with this rascal!

Though I should know better that life doesn’t really ever slow down on the farm, it does provide us with a lot of humor and entertaining situations that you can’t help but crack a smile at. And to be honest, I’d take the charming everyday chaos over organized storage any day.