Christmas on the Farm

(This post was written for Dairy Farmers of Canada’s Farmers Voice blog. Find it here.)

Christmastime really is the most wonderful time of the year. For our farm family, the Christmas season marks the culmination of a long year spent milking and feeding cows, caring for our animals, growing and harvesting crops, and general farm maintenance. It’s also a time to reflect on things that went well in the past year and on opportunities to improve in the New Year. This year more than ever we will think back to an incredibly busy summer and fall, during which we built a new barn to house all of our young stock under one roof. This project allowed us to demolish several dilapidated buildings that were formerly used to house our calves and heifers and, equipped with automatic scrapers, this barn will eliminate hours of manure removal each week. In 2015, we also finally completed our three year transition to organic dairy farming. We certainly appreciated the value of hard work and determination when we watched that first truckload of organic milk head off to the processor at the beginning of November! And this Christmas is made even more special by the addition of our newest farm kid: baby Connor is 4 months old and will be celebrating his first Christmas with us this year. Thinking back on 2015 certainly fills us with thankfulness for farm and family blessings.

Like most farm families that we know, Christmas is also a time to connect with friends and (extended) family. For us, this means that we attend and host various Christmas dinners and events. It’s always wonderful to feel the bonds of family and friendship strengthened by these gatherings. And, for me, it’s an opportunity to challenge myself to see how many dairy ingredients I can include in each dish served or brought to potluck dinners. Whether it’s generous dollops of sour cream in mashed potatoes, scads of butter slathered over a turkey, or thick layers of cheese oozing delectably from vegetable casseroles, I make it my personal mission to bolster the Canadian dairy industry with my Christmas cooking! I challenge you, my readers, to find interesting and unexpected ways to include dairy in your Christmas cooking. I promise you, everything is better with cheese…or butter…or cream…

But as any farmer will tell you, farm work doesn’t magically disappear at Christmastime! There are still cows to be milked, watered, fed. Calves need their bottles and heifers still love to munch on hay. Farm midwifery doesn’t slow down at all either – there’s still a good chance of being called out of bed for a midnight calving during the holiday season. But I wager that for farmers, myself included, this does not cause discontentment. For us, farming is a labour of love. And at Christmas, just like during the rest of the year, we enjoy being with those we love and doing what we love best. We love our cows and we love farming, so how could any of this cause displeasure? Rather, I find that at Christmas these tasks are all the more enjoyable, especially with more time to enjoy the simple pleasures of farm life: taking the extra time to pet that affectionate cow, marveling at the miracle of a new bovine arrival, or watching that delicious warm milk streaming from rounded udders is even more poignant and gratifying at this time of year. I truly believe that farm life is the best life, no matter the season.

Looking ahead to the New Year we know that, like any other year, 2016 will not be without challenges. This is especially true for our industry, as we expect to learn just how much the new trade agreement will impact us all individually. But I am fully confident that our Canadian dairy farmers and our dairy industry will commit to rising above these challenges. Farmers are resilient, as has been proven through the millennia; tough times are nothing new to farmers. Farm life is a challenging life, dependent on weather and crop success and good herd health and milk production. These new obstacles created by trade agreements will not cause the downfall of our industry. Just like we always have, we will continue fight to keep our industry competitive and our consumers satisfied with and supportive of our farms and our top-quality dairy products.

Farmers and farm friends, we wish you a dairy merry Christmas and a happy “moo” year!

Dairy Good Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I love cooking. There’s something so satisfying about combining ingredients together to create tasty and nutritional meals and snacks. I strive to cook with local and Canadian products as much as I can, thereby paying forward the support of our own Canadian dairy consumers. Yesterday, as I prepared this soup that combines several different recipes into my own version, I finally wrote down the ingredients and method that I use, and as I did so, I realized that this soup is a perfect soup for a dairy farming family: it includes plenty of dairy ingredients! And so, I decided to share the recipe. I hope you enjoy!

It’s easy to find Canadian ingredients for the following recipe – both the dairy and chicken are sourced from Canadian farms, the wine can be sourced from Canadian vineyards, and the vegetables and even the wild rice are grown in Canada. This soup is one of our favourites, often requested by the Farmer and our farm kids alike. As November draws to a close and the days are cold and dark and dreary, it’s understandable to crave comfort food. This creamy chicken and wild rice soup is certain to fill you with comforting warmth on these darkest days of the year. Don’t be intimidated by the long ingredient list, because, best of all, this soup can be cooked in a crock pot! I like to throw it all together after morning milking, and when we get in from evening milking it’s just about ready to eat with only a few additions necessary before it’s table-ready. There’s nothing better than coming in from the barn to the meaty aroma of chicken soup.

You’ll need a large crockpot because this recipe makes about 4 L of soup! Not that it matters – the leftovers taste even better the next day 😉 If you prefer and you have the time, it’s also simple to cook on the stove. It’s totally up to you!

Crock pot method:

In the morning, begin by cooking the wild rice: 3 cups of water and 1 cup of rice simmered together for about 45 minutes or until most of the grains of rice burst. Drain and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare the roux:

1 ½ c no salt added chicken broth (homemade broth is best, I think!)

½ tsp curry powder

¼ tsp sage

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp thyme leaves

¼ tsp herbes de provence

1/8 tsp ground marjoram

½ tsp onion powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

sprinkle paprika

1 cup milk

½ cup flour.

Bring first 10 ingredients to a simmer on the stove top. Mix together flour and milk and add gradually to simmering broth, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until bubbles break the surface. Stir for one minute or until mixture is smooth and thickened. Allow the roux to cool and thicken further while adding the following ingredients to the crockpot. (You can eliminate the roux by using 2 cans of condensed low sodium cream of chicken soup. I prefer the taste of the above ingredients, but using the prepared soup does save time.)

Add to the crockpot:

3 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 boneless skinless chicken breast

6 cups of chicken broth

½ cup dry white wine

2 medium chopped onions

2-3 peeled and chopped carrots

1 cup chopped celery root

1 cup chopped celery stalks

1 cup sliced or chopped mushrooms

Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours, stirring only very occasionally.

Before serving, transfer soup to a large pot. Remove the chicken and chop coarsely.

Return chopped chicken to the soup and add:

2 cups half-and-half cream

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Heat on the stovetop until just bubbling.

Serve with warm crusty buttered bread.

 

Stovetop method:

Begin by cooking chicken, either by roasting or simmering. I use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces simmered for 3 hours and use the resulting broth in this recipe.

Prepare the roux. Cool until use. Cook the wild rice.

Add the wine and vegetables to the broth and simmer until vegetables are tender, about half an hour.

Add the roux. Bring to a slow boil, whisk until roux is uniformly mixed through soup and lumps have dissolved.

Add the cooked chopped chicken and cooked wild rice.

Finally, add the cream and shredded cheese and heat through. Serve with warm crusty buttered bread.