Monday, November 28, 2011

Making Corned Beef

I took the plunge.  I made the brine yesterday from my old cookbook from the 40's.  The bacon recipe called for 100 lbs of bacon and the corned beef recipe started with "Scrub a good oak barrel thoroughly.  Put as much fresh-killed beef as desired in barrel....."

I had to cut the recipes down.  Way down.  I was using two one gallon jars and one 2 gallon jar, since all my other big jars are occupied right now.

I made the brines yesterday so they could cool down for a day.  The proportions I used are as follows:

Bacon brine:

2 lbs salt (used kosher salt)
12 oz brown sugar (I added molasses to white sugar)
3/4 oz salt peter (LEFT THIS OUT!!!!  EEK!)
1 gallon water

I heated it to melt the salt and sugar and left it covered for a day.

The bacon is some stuff that accidentally got left in the kitchen freezer when the bucket of bacon went to the butcher for brining, smoking, and slicing last year.  I decided to take the plunge so we can decide if we want to attempt making all of our own bacon this year.  The butcher charged me $2 per pound!  Looks like we could have a lot of bacon this year, too.

Corned beef brine:

1 1/2 lbs salt
1/2 lb brown sugar
1/2 oz salt peter (see above!)
1 gallon water

The corned beef will sit in the downstairs fridge for ten days and will be tested and if done, frozen for future meals.  I used 7 lbs of pastured boneless beef ("peeled knuckle.")

The bacon recipe says it can be kept in the brine for a year, or taken out after five weeks and smoked.  I'm way past that now but we may still attempt to smoke it.

Both required weighting the meat floats and part is above the brine otherwise.  My mother used to use a big scrubbed rock in a crock.  With the jars that do not have a wide opening, any rock that fits in the top will slip down the side.  So I reluctantly broke my no plastic rule and filled ziplocs with some of the brine (in case of a leak, which would dilute the brine if filled with water).

The corned beef is then cooked by boiling it.  You can add root veggies such as big chunks of carrots, turnip or rutabaga, potatoes, and onions and wedges of cabbage for a New England Boiled Dinner.  Or you can slice the meat for sandwiches or have some with your morning eggs.  Or my personal favorite, corned beef hash:

Since taking this pic, I discovered that it is much, much better if the diced potatoes are partially browned first, then add the diced beef and lightly brown it as the potatoes finish browning.  When I put them all in at the same time, the meat dried out a bit.  Probably because it was pastured so a lot leaner than what I was used to from the store.  I like things crispy, too.  Either way, it was delicious.

(This was made in August, before I started this journal....I have another batch of corned beef brining now.  Super easy and super yummy!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Simple Home-made Cheese Press

I am NOT a carpenter.  I made this while my very first cheddar was culturing and renneting, so I slapped it together very quickly and never bothered to re-make it.  You can see that it is off-center and I didn't use the best wood.....but everything was something I had here already.  I eyeball the press from every angle when I load it, to make sure the arm is straight up and down from every angle so as not to get a crooked cheese.  Cleanliness of the press is not important, as the cheese does not come into contact with it.  Cleanliness of the mold and follower is the critical part, and what the mold is set onto and into.

The two different size wood followers are for the two sizes of molds that I have.  The shorter one for the bigger molds, the longer one for the smaller molds.

 Here is a Gouda in the mold getting ready to be pressed.  Use a pan big enough to collect the whey and spread it out so your cheese isn't sitting in whey, which could happen with a smaller container.  Those are canning jar rings that it is sitting on.  In the background is a plastic "ice cube tray" cover for a standard commercial florescent light fixture that is easy to cut to size to drain/dry cheeses on a plate or in a box, with the addition of a mat.  The pieces go into the dishwasher if not too big, top rack.  This can be used under the mold, too, but I recommend two layers.
When I first made the press, I used this ten pound weight with a dog collar.  I put my bathroom scale on the base of the press and marked the lever increase the pressure, simply slide the weight further away from the hinge, to reduce the pressure, slide it towards the hinge.  I marked it at 20, 30, and 50 lbs.  For 10 lbs, I put the weight right in the follower and not on the arm.
I made the molds from containers I got at a restaurant supply place....they are PERFECT as molds and followers.  I have some shorter ones for a 1-2 lb cheese, used a lot in my first year with one goat but I haven't made small cheeses in a couple of years now.  It is the same amount of work and time for a four pound cheese as it is for a one pound cheese, and the larger wheels age better.....they are not all rind, there is actually some cheese in there.

The press in action (notice the notch in the lever arm that the point of the follower board fits into...without a notch, the follower will not remain level and the cheese may press unevenly):

I want to emphasize that I made this all from scraps that I had on hand....nothing was purchased to make this press.  The containers for the molds were purchased at a fraction of the cost of a "real" cheese mold and follower.  My point is this:  You do NOT have to spend a small fortune to do some dairying in your backyard and to make dairy products in your kitchen.  At the time of this writing, I have about 60 lbs of gouda and caerphilly in my cheese fridge in the cellar, 20-30 lbs of feta in the freezer, and maybe 12 lbs of chevre in the freezer.  We will be all set until next summer, when the cheese making starts up again in earnest.

For another great and free cheese press idea, check out my friend OhioFarmGirl's blog as she tells how she cuts the cheese......*snort*giggle*snicker*.......'scuse me, just a little cheese making humor!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pushy Peach

Last but not least, Peach.  She was rather pushy.  Not lady-like at all.  She and I need to sit down and have a little talk about correct behavior.

Dorian was a perfect gentleman:

Peach was a pushy little thing:
Here is conclusive proof, once and for all, that the does want to be with the buck.  Their instincts take over when the time is right.  Peach starts out behaving in a somewhat forward manner in this video.

When Dorian doesn't react in the way she wants him to, she gets downright aggressive.

Bottom line:  Ginger, Plum, and Peach all had dates with Dorian within a span of five days....April is going to be a busy, busy month! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Princess Plum

Plum came into heat yesterday, two days ahead of schedule.  This is what I found when I went out to milk....

There was a light drizzle, and Plum would never stand outside in any rain unless she was serious.  My husband drove Dorian away from the gate (he can be rather dangerous with those horns when in rut and there are willing does around) while I shoved Plum into his pen.  I didn't have to shove hard....she was pretty anxious to get in there.

I want to assure all the people who asked me, worriedly, if the girls are ok with this.  Yes, they are.  Without a doubt.  In this video (G-rated, don't worry!) Plum waves and practically points Dorian in the right direction.

Although I am very careful around Dorian, especially this time of year, he is very, very gentle with the does.  His only downfall is that he won't let them into his house so I can't leave them with him if it is raining.  And he stinks to high heaven.  That is Buck Cologne he is rubbing all over Plummy, and she will carry his stench for a few days.  I'll have to be very careful when I milk her....she won't get her usual hugs until she smells like her sweet self again.  If I get that cologne on my hands and then milk her, it will flavor the milk....ick.

Plum is back in with the rest of the girls.  This maneuver involves Peter driving Dorian to a far corner of his pen while I snatch Plum and get through the gate as quickly as I can.  Dorian is NOT pleased with me and now growls at me whenever I approach the fence.  What happened to that cute little Bambi I brought home in a dog crate in the backseat of my car two summers ago?

Peach came into heat late last night, in the pouring rain, so we put the two together at 10:30 PM.  We stood out there in the rain like a couple of voyeurs, our flashlight attracting attention three houses down the row.   Two kids.  The new neighbors, just moved in this fall.  Another conversation will be taking place in that household.  Mommy, what are the neighbors doing in the rain?  Watching wrestling, dear.  Now go brush your teeth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Keep the Kids Warm & Toasty

November goat shenanigans lead to April babies....and April can still be pretty durned cold and windy here in New England.  Here is a quick tutorial on how to make some warm baby goat coats with minimal sewing skills.

All you need is some of that fleece know the stuff.....made from recycled plastic bottles, supposedly.  It is rather warm and somewhat wind-proof and best of all it needs no hemming.  It won't unravel and looks great after many washings.  It comes in many colors and designs and if you get it on clearance you can make a bunch of coats for a mere pittance.  Be sure to pick up some coordinating velcro from the bargain bin at the fabric store, too.  Not the sticky kind, the sew on kind.  You don't want it to blend in, just coordinate.  If it matches your material too closely, you will hear me saying, "I told you so!" when you are trying to close those coats on wiggly kids in a poorly lit stall.  I'm telling you.  Listen to the voice of experience.

These coats are great for jumping into piles of hay:

Or falling into piles of hay:

Or when helping with spring yard clean-up.....with proper supervision, of course:

First use newspaper or a rag to make a rough pattern and try it on your kids to get the fit correct.  You will be making this to fit a variety of sizes of kids and you will want it to fit them as they grow, so don't obsess too much.  It really just needs to keep the chest warm.  Keep some extra fabric and velcro on hand so you will be prepared to whip one out if you get any unusually large or small kids.  Over time, you will have a vast collection of these cute little coats.  It is very handy to have two per kid so you can dress them all warmly while they are drying from being born, then change them all into fresh dry coats when they are all fluffy.  The fleece material does a great job of wicking moisture away from damp babies.

Inside of the coat....notice the long, long pieces of velcro to allow for multiple sizes and growing kids:

Outside of coat:

Coat as it will fit on the baby....note the forward placement of the belly band to accommodate the buckling'  And the healing umbilicus.  The width of the band makes it more comfortable and adds some warmth:

Best of all, a nice warm goat coat makes it possible for baby go out with the big girls!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dorian's REALLY big day

Ginger and Dorian, sitting in a tree
First comes love, then comes.....

That's all I'm sayin'.....this is a (mostly) G rated blog.

Emotional blackmail

Dorian's tactics have not worked.  None of the goats have sprouted thumbs and opened his gate.....his gateway to personal fulfillment and happiness.  The does have begged and pleaded with me, and Mya threatens me by raising the hair on her back and walking stiff-legged around me, tilting her horns and generally trying to look threatening.

I have remained immovable.  I will not have kidsicles in February.  Gestation is five months, and of the six of us....Dorian, Mya, Ginger, Peach, and Plum....I'm the only one who can read a calendar.  No honeymoons until mid-November, no babies until mid-April.

With the full moon influencing the usual craziness here and bringing it to a whole new level, they conferred and brought out the big guns.  The major weapons.  Emotional blackmail.  Put us together or else!

First Mya tried.  Her weapon of choice was bloat.  This consisted of not getting up for breakfast, then not wanting to go across the yard to the garage to be milked.  Totally not her pushy, bossy, in-charge herd queen self.  Her rumen, the major fermentation vat that is the largest stomach of a ruminant, was hugely distended with gas that she could not expel without assistance.  If left unchecked, it could

First she got a very deep rumen massage as I tried to get some of the pressure relieved.  She gave me two burps and tried to gore me for my trouble.  We sparred for a bit in the middle of the yard, in full view of the neighbors.  I half expected animal control to show up.  I can't imagine what my suburban neighbors thought I was doing, struggling with this "poor goat."

I milked her without giving her breakfast (couldn't add to the rumen pressure) and then forced some vegetable oil into her with a dosing syringe.  This will break up the surface tension of the bubbles and help her expel some of the gas.  I gave her some baking soda, too, and she was better in an hour or so.  By early afternoon, she was back to her normal size and her obnoxious self.  And she was back to Dorian's fence.

Dorian decided to up the ante.  I glanced out the window to see him swinging from the tree in his pen, hanging like a cattle rustler in a B Western.

The hubster and I rushed out to rescue him, only to find him in full control of the situation.  Sheesh.

Someone remind me....why do I keep goats?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dorian's big day

The day he's been waiting for all year is coming up...on Saturday.  Maybe Friday.  Or Sunday.

It is all up to Ginger, really.  She holds all the cards and is in full control.  Dorian has been doing everything in his power to get the girl's attention....dowsing himself liberally with cologne, posturing in a manly he-goat way, displaying his power by bashing the fencepost hanging in his pen, completely destroying the door to his house, sticking his tongue out and stamping his front foot, emotional blackmail (more on this in a few days).....what's next?

The neighbors are no longer impressed.  The four does are now hanging out by the back fence, making goo-goo eyes and waving.....Yooooohooooo, Mr. Bucky.......pick me, pick me!!! 

All of this has me looking longingly at the pictures of his nine babies from last year and dreaming of spring.

Ginger's triplets:

Mya's twins: 

Peach's triplets, getting warm under the heat lamp:

And last, but certainly not least, Plummy's little singleton buckling:

This is what I think about when love is in the air out behind the barn.  I'm not sure what the neighbor lady tells her children.....they sure get an eye full.  I'd love to hear the dinner conversations in that house this weekend....Mommy, what are the goats doing?  They're wrestling, dear.  Now eat your carrots.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kefir gone crazy

Suddenly my kefir grains are very, very happy.  Today I decided to dry some to freeze for those times when I lose my grains.  Yes, you can lose your kefir grains.  For me, it usually happens when I am in a hurry and have multiple jars to fill after milking:  a jar for kefir, a jar for us, a jar for the folks, a jar for the bulk of the milk to save up to make a big batch of cheese.  The grains go into the wrong jar, and the next day I have a jar of clabbered milk on my counter.  Sheesh.

If....when....this happens, I simply reach into my freezer for the little jar of dried and frozen kefir grains.  They are my kefir insurance and also a stash of grains for sharing with new kefirites.  These teensy, cream-colored bits will remain viable for a couple of years, and since mine are two years old now, it is time to replace them.

Drying them is amazingly simple.  I simply scoop out the amount of grains I wish to dry....I used about a third of a cup or so....and rinse them well with filtered water.  I normally don't rinse my grains, but for drying I do.  Then I simply spread them out on a folded paper towel and set it in a safe container to sit near my woodstove for a week or two, checking and stirring them daily.

When they seem to have no moisture left, I put them in a little glass jar and put that in a bag, marked with the date and contents, and put it in the door of my freezer (so that I will have a prayer of ever finding it again.)   To share some, I simply wrap a few bits in a clean bit of tissue paper and put that into a small container for safe travel.  We don't want them to arrive at their new home completely powdered, or for someone to grab a tissue and see little fall out.  Eek.

Rehydrating is a simple as placing the grains in a cup of milk and straining them out daily and placing them into a cup of fresh milk, left at room temperature in a jar with a lid.  Give these first changes of milk to the dog or to the compost pile.  When it is kefir, you will know.  You will no longer question the smell but will be strangely drawn to it.  Even if you, like me, don't care for the smell, you will be attracted and fascinated by it.  It is very good for you.  I promise.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Non-GMO corn.....a real looker, too!

In my quest for non-GMO corn for making traditionally prepared hominy and cornmeal for cornbread and possibly tortilla chips, I chose seeds from Baker Creek.  Wade's Giant Indian corn looked like a good one, and so colorful, too! 

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and these frightening "foods" are showing up everywhere.  There are two aspects of GMO's that are really worrisome....well, three, actually.  First, the seeds are modified so that the plant can be doused with chemicals (mainly herbicides), killing competing weeds without killing the crop.  This means that we are ingesting lots more of these deadly substances if we are not diligent....which is very hard to do since they are not labelled as GMO, worrisome aspect number two.  And worrisome aspect number three:  There have been rat studies that strongly indicate that ingesting GMO grains as even part of the diet can cause multiple system breakdown.  I was going to link studies but a quick online search brought up too many good ones and I couldn't choose.....simply put GMO rat studies into a seach engine and prepare to be driven straight to the farmer's market or the organic section of your grocery store....or to your garage or shed for a spade to start a garden.

Isn't this a pretty option?  I didn't get much due to a wacky weather year....rain, rain, and more rain.  I picked up the corn stalks after Hurricane Irene flattened my garden, and staked up as many as I could.  In the week that followed, we got another 8 inches of rain and the stakes just couldn't hold up the heavy stalks.  I managed to get about 10 ears, enough for seed for next year (hope springs eternal in the gardener's heart!) and enough corn to play with recipes.

Can you see that odd yellow ear in the back, with the occasional dark kernel?  I believe that is an ear that was pollinated by a neighbor's sweet corn.  Because of all the rain during pollination of some of the ears, many were poorly developed....but the kernels are still good to eat.

I saved the most beautiful and colorful ears for next year's seed:

An added perk.....they look lovely bundled up with baling twine and hung from my mantle, where I will admire them until the urge for cornbread strikes. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hot-hot-hot peppers!

What a strange year in the garden it has been.  My hot peppers just kept putting out branches and flowers and baby peppers but hardly ripened any of the the little culinary firecrackers.  I couldn't let them go to waste, so they are hanging in my garage, finishing the job they started.

When the first frost threatened, I pulled the plants and shook the dirt from the roots.  I have some hooks in my garage ceiling, but needed more I scrounged around and spotted an unused shepherd's hook hanging  in a corner.  It fit perfectly into two of the hooks and gave me plenty of hanging room for all the plants.

I make sure the garage door is closed at night to keep them from freezing, and they are ripening their peppers.  I'll be able to start picking and drying more soon.  Cayennes:
Mystery peppers from a plant given to me....supposed to be VERY hot:

This should keep us in hot peppers for the next year, maybe two.  I'll dry them by the woodstove (I use the car in the summer, and a small electric dehydrator in damp weather) and store them whole.  They'll be pulverized with a mortar and pestle for pepper flakes (think adding a kick to pizza), or run through the food processor and sifted for cayenne powder.  Some will go into chili, others into Chinese food (General Tso's Chicken, my favorite!), and a jar of cayenne powder will live on the spice rack.  Soon.....we'll be making sausage with our homegrown pork and almost all homegrown flavoring herbs...can't wait!

Turning Pumpkins into Bacon

Free pumpkins plus hogs equals free bacon!  The neighboring farmer lets me take all the leftover pumpkins, squashes, and gourds when they close on Oct 31 each year.  I save the best for the goats (or a couple for us if I didn't get any earlier in the season) and toss the rest into the pig pasture.

The pigs prefer to eat the seeds first, and like the flesh of the pumpkin best when it is almost liquified and fermented.  They instinctively know that the nutrient bioavailability shoots up with fermentation.....although I prefer my fermented veggies not quite so fermented, personally.

These four have done quite well on free food.  The girl on the far right was the runt last May.  Look at her now.....large and in charge!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The October Storm

I spoke too soon.  I told a friend on Saturday, October 29 that I was ready for a big power outage and that I secretly hoped we would get a good one so I could test my skills.

Be careful what you wish for.

We got it.  Three days plus a few hours with no power.  Living on a main road in suburbia, I'd gotten pretty almost ten years, we'd only experienced a few blinks and one evening without power.  I figured that, living on the busy road near the bigger shopping centers in town, power would always be restored quickly.

Not this time.  The storm was too devastating.  Thick, wet, sticky snow landing on heavily leafed trees created major destruction all over, with breaking limbs and falling leaves taking power lines with them.

Some damage on our property:

All in all, we did ok.  I'd insisted on a more efficient woodstove last year and argued against a pellet stove, which relies on purchased fuel and electricity to run.  I also switched our cookstove from electric to gas specifically so we could still cook in a power the benefits of cooking with a flame.  Add to that a nice stash of candles and a crank flashlight, and we did just fine.

We did add a small generator to our future wish list, though.  The thought of losing the contents of three freezers would be too much to bear, especially considering all the work that is involved in raising one's own food.  Warm weather outages put us at risk of a basement flood as well, so running the sump pump is a high priority.   During this storm, however, a snowbank on the north side of the house served as a fridge and a fine place to chill the daily gallon of milk from the goats.  The pigs have not yet made the trip to freezer camp.

The girls considered the storm damage to be the most wonderful thing that happened in their world in a while.  Ginger, my big huggable goof:

Mya next to the crushed hoophouse (portable hawk-proof shelter for raising chicks on pasture):

Peach searching for acorns:

And my sweet Plum stuffing her delicate face, forgetting her table manners: