Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Land of Goat Milk and Honey Bees

One thing people notice when they come up the drive to the main house is a little sign that says "Goat Milking 10 AM".  When they often ask about it, the explanation is that we get all the milk we use in our goats milk cheeses from Skittles and Clover, our mama goats.  We started to get a lot of guests who would then ask if they could join us in the morning as the goats got milked.  Too often, people don't know the extent to which we source our food from our own land. Most places that refer to themselves as "farm to table" mean that they know the farm that brought the food to the kitchen that goes to their table.  Here, we do, too, this one!

I thought that I'd take you with me through the routine since there seems to be some interest in it.  Each morning, we start by sanitizing the bottles that will hold the milk.  I like to use quart sized milk jars so that it is easier to fill each and pour precise measures with when needed, and also more wieldy between the goats legs.  After they are clean, we load them up into the milking basket with cleaning supplies and head to the goat barn below the Provence and Alsace suites.

Brennan, our dog, thinks he is a shepherd.  He is a Yorkie, not a Collie, as he would have you think, and as such, his herding instincts are... lacking.  Still, it is the highlight of his day, so we let him tag along.  He's at least learned he has to wait until we have a lady in the stall until he gets to "herd" the rest.

Most people don't realize how smart goats really are.  They know us as we approach, like our dogs.  They are surprisingly good at problem solving, as well.  They can tackle such complicated problems as "the latch on the gate between us and the rose bushes" quite easily, so we have to be creative with them to keep them in the enclosure.

As we approach, the goats come running.  They know what time it is!  The ladies are ready to be milked, and the ram and the two kids are ready for breakfast.  Skittles gives more milk than Clover and she is always first in line at the milking stall when I open the gate to let her in.  She then hops up on the milking platform and pushes her head into the security lock where her personal bucket of feed goes.  The latch goes up, the pin goes in and we are ready to rumble.

First step is to clean the udders and nipples to make sure they don't develop any infections and to ensure the milk is clean as we take it.  Once that is done, I place a bottle below the tip of the teet and clamp my fingers at the base of the nipple, then squeeze towards the tip like a ziplock bag full of water with a hole in the corner.  This technique seems simple to master, but can take a bit of practice to get it just right.  My husband is twice as fast as I am at knocking out the process, but I like to think I have more finesse.  It's one of those better because it was milked with love situations for me.

We go until the udder is emptied, usually around a gallon per goat per morning.  Once the girl is finished giving, we do another cleaning to make sure she is good to go and then let the clamp loose.  The happy goat bounds off to find more hay or greens to nibble on and the kids chase after.

After gathering up the supplies, we return to the kitchen and strain, and separate the milk for it's intended uses and store them in refrigeration if the milk is not immediately being used.  And that's a wrap, ladies and Gentlement!

If you are going to be staying with us and would like to watch the milking or even help, feel free to let us know at any time.  We love the company.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dr. Golflove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ball

So I broke out of my already flimsy box a couple of weeks ago, I tried golfing!  I had been excited because one of my oldest friends was coming to visit.  Her younger son graduates high school this year, and was on a trip to visit colleges with his father, so she found herself free for a few days for the first time in a while.  When she let me know about her availability, I immediately invited her up for a girls' retreat.  I suggested that my husband take a camping trip for a couple of days and he leapt on it.  Given he saw the other option being a likely longer "honey do" list, it didn't take much convincing. 

I didn't make a lot of plans as I figured a laissez faire approach would be more relaxing, but assumed a trip to a vineyard and some cocktails and spa time was in order.  I booked a massage for the two of us here at Elm Creek, and asked her what she wanted to do after.  She told me that when she was in college, at Southern Methodist in Dallas, she and her friends used to come to Muenster often.  That blew my mind, picturing some SMU sorority girls rolling in to tiny Muenster for a good time, like something from a movie. 

It turned out one of her sisters was from Muenster and they went to visit her family one weekend and checked out the newly opened (in the early nineties) golf course.  In this town, anything new is big news, so I can imagine the buzz around town for that lil gem.  Turns out they had a blast and kept coming back with their friends throughout her time there.  So she was very insistent on making a tee time for the two of us.  I was hesitant as i am not a golfer, at all, but she was dead set and insisted I could "take it at my own pace".  I finally agreed, she appealed to my chardonnay side by telling me we'd essentially be riding around a giant park in an electric cart with a glass of wine on a beautifulday.  How could I say no?!

I let her handle the heavy lifting on getting us set up at the course.  We got lucky and they had a tee time available in perfect time for us.  We got a little cooler together (it's BYOB) with some wine and mixed a couple of summery cocktails and hit the road.  When I loaded up the cooler, I saw she had brought her clubs that we would share, as I had none, and she had clearly planned ahead!  They don't offer rentals at the course, so this was a smart move on her part.

When we got there, we got some snacks, and some locally made sausages at the shop.  The cart boy brought us up a cart and we went to drive a couple of balls so she could teach me how it's done.  Well... show me how it's done, not too much was retained on my part at first. after a little while, our tee time came up, so we made our way to the first hole and she tee'd off a really nice shot.  After a couple of tries we decided I would just go from her tee shot as there were some people that looked like they were getting ready to head to our tee box. 

The course is set on a beautiful piece of north Texas hill country with rolling hills, old oak trees and lots of wildflowers blooming.  I heard some of the golfers talking and they pointed out that the way the course was set on rolling hills was not as common and made for a fun challenging course.  I loved the views and honestly spent more time "sitting this one out" and "caddying" for her.  This meant I was the bartender and drink holder most of the time.  I was fine with that, and her promise of a day of riding around a gorgeous park and sipping cocktails in the sun was as advertised, and well worth it.  I also now know why my sons enjoy it so much, it is incredibly peaceful out there!

She was a really good golfer as I learned from the impressed look on a few guys we spoke to after the round when they asked what she shot.  Before that day, most of my golf knowledge came from Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore, but after the 18 hole immersion course, I learned a lot and have been since thinking I may take up a new hobby!

For information on setting up a round at Turtle Hill Golf Course, here is the link to their website: http://www.playtheturtle.com/index.htm

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Germanfest, Pride of Muenster

One of my favorite times of year, here in Muenster is Germanfest.  With it's rich German heritage, all of Texas is familiar with its influence on our culture.  People usually think of the Latin influence in our heritage, but it is as richly peppered with bavarian as well.  Sausage, meat market style BBQ, most of the early settlements, and even Tejano music all come from or have roots in the German influx of early Texas settlement.  Muenster is one of these gifts brought by Germans to Texas.  Officially founded in 1889, in the early statehood, this german-Catholic town loves to showcase its history at Germanfest.  People here are friendly and have a very familial attitude that is seen in every aspect of the place.  This is evident from the moment you get into town and pass the big "Wilkomen!" sign on your way to the fair grounds.  Most people are familiar with Oktoberfest or Wurstfest, and Germanfest is very similar to that, but held in April.  Muenster actually does celebrate an Oktoberfest, but in this case, it is the lil brother to the big party in the Spring.

As you would expect, the Beirgarten (a giant refrigerated semi trailer with taps down the side) and German food are the main event at this spectacle, but don't think the rest of the party gets completely outshined.  Music, crafts, and games all share the spotlight here as well, though the people watching here is pretty spectacular.  You never know who or what you are going to see here.  There are 2 stages with one featuring traditional german style polkas and dancing and the other with more modern style bands and a big haybale made set of bleachers to watch from.  My son actually convinced one of the bands to let him get on stage years ago to propose to his girlfriend!

Both big individual events and ones that go on throughout the weekend are exciting to watch or compete in.  Featured games like Nagelschlagen and arm wrestling are staples here.  Nagelschlagen is a traditional game where one has a pin nosed hammer and has to drive a spike into a tree stump like block in the fewest strikes necessary into the wood.  The contest starts Friday and goes on til Sunday with prizes and a trophy at stake, but along the way, it's not uncommon to hear the audience placing side bets each round.  There is also a BBQ Contest, bike race, and 2 fun runs over the fest. 

Each day of the three day festival has its own draw. Friday is all about the wind up, and the opening ceremonies and the first bands take the stages.  There is a palpable excitement as the carnival starts up and the kids just getting out of school come out in droves to ride the rides and gorge on festival delights like cotton candy, funnel cake, and local treats like fresh made real kettle corn!  The BBQ contest starts Friday when the smokers fire up and the onsite prep starts up.  This one is my son's favorite things about the weekend.  He says that the best part for him is hanging out overnight with his buddies in the camping area where the contestants give out samples as the smoking and cooking goes on.

Saturday starts with the bike races at 10am with 35k, 65k, and 100k rides.  Riders line up and take off for the long race early in the festival day.  Sometimes we go out to a friend's house outside of town.  They live on the racecourse about 12 miles in, and have lunch on the lawn and let the kids cheer on the racers as they pass, which they love.  It's a lot like a poor man's Tour de France... a really poor man.  The BBQ contest finishes up cooking on Saturday and judging begins.  This is when you want to be in the right place at the right time, that being around the BBQ tents when judging is finishing up, because that is when you get to partake in some killer Q.

Sunday is the weekend wrap up and the main event, the 42nd annual fun run.  There are 5k & 15k runs that start at noon.  I have come to the conclusion that even though both the bike race and run come with free beer/soda tickets, competing in the pair is the only way to not put on weight over the weekend.  If not, just resign yourself to the idea that you need to dust off that leftover gym membership from January's New Year's resolution.  By this point you will have familiarized yourself with all the food vendors and the massive tent full of brats and kraut, so take this last chance to try the things you were saving for last or get a little more of something you loved along the way.  I always go back for brats until I physically can't anymore; I've found that personally the stick approach works best for me!  No matter what your weakness is, be it German sausage, schnitzels, German potato salad or anything else you only find at these kind of celebrations, they have it here.

Every year, as the last band wraps up Sunday evening, as full as I am, and tired from the long weekend of fun, I always feel sad that I have to wait another year for all of this to come around again... or at least until October.