Sunday, February 26, 2012


What a great addition to a healthy diet....if you are not allergic to them.  I started getting allergic symptoms to walnuts in my 20's, and as the years went by, it seemed like I became allergic to a couple new foods each year until the list was a mile long.

A few years ago I was introduced to Sally Fallon's (now Morrell) and fantastic book, Nourishing Traditions, and my food life was deliciously changed forever.  Since then, I've spent many hours on this scholarly site.  I can't remember now where I learned this, but I was cautiously excited to know that maybe, possibly, hopefully, I didn't have a full-blown allergy to nuts but rather was sensitive to the phytates found in the outer coating of the seed.  I bought some raw almonds and put them in the fridge to attempt phytate neutralization through soaking and then dehydrating to make the nuts palatable again.

Those almonds are still in my second fridge.  I think they've been there 3 years.  I was too afraid to try it.

Recently, however, I learned that there is a safe way to test for allergies at home, through the Coca Pulse Test.  There are several ways to approach this and I won't outline them here.  Suffice it to say I recently tested myself with properly prepared (soaked and dried) raw almonds and pecans and found that I was not allergic to almonds but I am allergic to pecans.

I asked the hubster to pick up some raw nuts on his way home from work.  Trader Joe's carries a number of different raw nuts and seeds.  These should not be eaten in any quantities straight from the package as the phytates can cause irritation to the digestive tract and will also block absorption of important nutrients.  Fortunately, proper preparation is extremely simple.
First, add some good water (non-chorinated or filtered) to a 2 quart jar or a bowl.  Add a tablespoon or two of a good salt (Redmond, Celtic, Himalayan, etc) and mix it up a bit.  Add a pound of raw nuts or seeds, and top up with enough water to almost fill the jar.  The nuts/seeds will expand quite a bit.  Set the jar on the counter for at least 7 hours.  I leave them for 24 hours just to be safe.
Strain them in a colander and rinse well.  Spread them on a baking sheet and dry in a 150 F oven for 12-24 hours, stirring on occasion if you can.  I sprinkle mine with more salt while they are still wet, once they are on the trays to dry.  You can also use a dehydrator if you have one.
These were the freshest and most delicious sunflower seeds I have ever eaten! 
What a delight to be able to eat almonds again!
I got the mixed nuts for the hubby, and also so I could try some different nuts.  I'm really, really hoping I can tolerate the hazelnuts and the Brazil nuts, as these two are among my favorites.  My hopes are not high for walnuts, since that was my first big reaction and I ate them for a long time, not recognizing the early signs of allergy.  Chances are high that I have antibodies for them....especially since I did not tolerate the pecan, and I never liked pecans so rarely ate them, yet still have the allergy.  We do have black walnut trees and a very large butternut tree on our property, so I'll test those this would be beyond fantastic if I could use some of the bounty that only serves to increase the squirrel population here.

One of the best things about this new venture is the price.  These raw nuts and seeds are significantly cheaper...and of much higher quality.....than the seeds and nuts we've been buying at the discount grocery store.  Ya can't beat that! 

Next:  I need to get my hands on a whole coconut so I can test myself on that, too.

What is your favorite nut?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Quick sage pork roast

A few days ago I took a couple of medium-sized pork roasts out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge.  After one day of thawing, I put them into a ziploc with some raw apple cider vinegar (2-3 glugs each) and set them in a bowl to continue thawing in the fridge.  I turned them once or twice a day to get the vinegar all over the roasts.

Tonight was a long work night for the hubster and I.  We got home late and tired and still had animal chores to do, dishes, laundry, and phone calls/emails to return.  We decided to divide and conquer the meal issue.

I put the roasts in the oven while he went out and watered the critters and brought in firewood for the night.  Here is what we ended up with:
Yup, I wanted to cook it fast so I took a chance.  Both roasts had a nice thick layer of fat on one side, so I figured it was safe to oven roast them, quick and dry, and still have a chance at moist, tender meat.  Boy-oh-boy, was this moist and tender!  Don't let the charred appearance fool you.  That crust was the best part.  Or was it the meat?  Or the pan drippings?  Oh, my.

I made a quick rub....or was it a sprinkle?....with a handful of home made sea salt (any coarse salt would do....coarse Celtic salt would be amazing), a handful of dried sage rubbed between the palms until fuzzy-powdered (you gardeners know what I mean, others may substitute 2-4 Tbsp of rubbed sage, then you put it on your calendar to buy some sage seeds or a few sage plants for your garden this year!), black pepper (2 Tbsp), and garlic powder (2 Tbsp, yes, two.)  Mix well, then sprinkle over all sides of the drained roast, pressing it onto the fatty layer.  Set into an appropriately sized roasting pan of some sort....anything will do, but it has to be deep enough to catch all the drippings.

Place it in the center of a preheated 425 F oven and set the timer for an hour and a half.  Then go do your chores.  Meanwhile, have hubby fry up some salt pork in a cast iron skillet and throw in a pound of green beans.  Eat the beans to hold you over until the roasts are done, meanwhile, work your way through the above tasks....oh, add in a couple of loads of laundry to the list.

When the timer goes off, take the roast out and stick it with a meat thermometer (run right out and get one if you don't have one yet) taking care not to hit the bone, yet get into the deepest part of the meat.  You want an internal temperature of about 170 F or so.  I put my roasts back in for 20 more minutes, turning the oven down to 350 F as they were almost done.

Carve off a slice to double check doneness, sneaking a piece of that delectable crust when no one is looking.
 The best way to enjoy the most flavorful part, the pan drippings, is to cut your meat up into bite-size chunks and spoon some of that lovely fat and browned bits over the meat.  Use plenty, it will absorb it nicely and be so moist and wonderful!  Sprinkle with a bit more good sea salt (Celtic, Redmond, Himalayan, homemade, etc.).  Remember, in order for your body to get the goodness out of the meat, you must eat it with the fat and some salt.  Thank goodness!
Yes, darlin', you may have another serving!  Pass your plate over here, I'll cut you another hunk.  More drippings over that?  Sure, there's plenty!

Hunting for eggs

See this four-unit nest box condo?  I made it myself.  My first hens obediently used it each and every day.
As I get closer to my quest for a self-sustaining flock, well, my hens are abandoning the trappings of civilization in favor of the habits of their ancestors.  I should admire them.  Yet.....Is the floor of the coop really a more attractive alternative to leave your future offspring?
Or the corner of the partially cleaned buck house?
A deeply bedded corner of the does' communal stall is more attractive, yet rather vulnerable to crushing under the hooves of goats squabbling over food.
See any good spots here?  This is the kidding stall, currently being used to store hay and grain.  I'm down to three bales in here, and will clean it out in preparation for kidding once the hay is all gone.  Yesterday, a screeching hen came noisily out the door when I went in to get food for the goats.  I figured I'd better look for her egg. 
This nest made more sense, cozied in the protected spot made to keep kids warm under a heat lamp.  When I went to see if she laid an egg in there, this is what I found:
How many days without eggs for breakfast is that?  Sheesh!  Girl!  I've been feeding you organic wheat that I lovingly pre-sprout for you to make it more digestible!  At least sit on those eggs and raise a brood!

I also found two in the I'd never have found had I not seen the hen sneaking quietly into a tight spot behind a bucket earlier.  We suspect there are eggs being laid in the neighbor's yard, under some equipment and trailers that are parked in a far corner.  There are likely other spots on our own property that we haven't found.  I'm sure some eggs are taken by dogs or other protein-loving creatures before we can find the location of the nests.

Here is an example....see the hen?  This is the tarp that covers one of our diminishing wood piles:
Same hen, using a flash this time....see the attitude?  Defiant little creature!
The hubster and I hunt for eggs at least twice a day, reporting new hiding spots to each other.  I imagine it will only get worse with the addition of the Icelandic hens.....I can hardly wait!

Have you hugged your nest-box-using hen lately?  Go give her a big ol' smooch right on the beak!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Incubating incubators

I just loaded the incubator for the spring hatch, and 24 of the 41 spaces now contain potential future incubators!
These are the eggs we filled the incubator with.  Sorry it is a bit blurry....operator error!  The main reason for this hatch is the small white to pinkish eggs that are smaller than the rest.  These are from Icelandic hens. 

I saw an ad on craigslist a couple of weeks ago for hatching eggs from a flock of Icelandic chickens.  Curious by nature, I did a quick internet search and came up with surprisingly little information.  What I did read was rather intriguing, however. 

These birds are very genetically pure, due to regulations in their country of origin.  They are rather new to this country, and seem to be greatly enjoyed by their owners.  The flocks are colorful, as they are not bred for color.  The features that made me say, "I want those!!!" were their ability to forage for their food, and their tendency to broodiness.

Broodiness, the instinct a hen has....or used to sit on a pile of eggs and stay  there for three weeks until they hatch....has been bred out of modern hens in this country.  Once a hen goes broody, she stops laying eggs.  All the eggs she sits on need to hatch at about the same time for the safety of the chicks.  They are very active right from the start, and she cannot keep the new hatchlings safe while still sitting on unhatched eggs.  She will sit for a couple of days, maybe, but then will abandon unhatched eggs in favor of the young chicks.  This works out fine, since hens will share a nest, and the broody hen will sit on everyone and anyone's eggs.  She will consider them all her own. 

I've managed to get a few hens to go broody over the years.  The chicks hatched and raised by a hen are far hardier and far better foragers than those that I incubate or buy as day-old chicks and raise under a heat lamp.  If they survive the first few days, then tend to survive to adulthood, too.  They grow into beautiful, productive members of our flock, producing eggs and meat for us with far less input.  A broody is very valuable here.
I lost my two lovely broody hens to hawks and a young eagle last year, and no other hen has stepped up to the plate and volunteered to raise a brood for me.  So to find genetics nearby that would give me as close to 100% broody potential as one could ever hope for.....I was thrilled.

I ran right out and bought 25 eggs.  My friend Haley gave me 4 Maran eggs from her new pair, and my one Light Brahma hen graced the goats' stall with an egg a day for a week, muddying only one.  Those ten eggs were added to the 41 needed to fill the incubator, and the rest of the spaces were filled with blue eggs from my mixed breed Americauna cross hens, bred by the Light Brahma rooster.

I broke one Icelandic egg while transferring them.  Sigh.

My father set up the incubator at my folks' place, where the temperature is much more consistent then the woodstove allows here.  My cheap little styrofoam incubator doesn't like big fluctuations in outside air temperature and can't keep up.  The eggs need a constant 99.5 F in order to develop properly....for 21 days, plus the time needed to hatch.
That thermometer is my newest one that I use for cheesemaking....and for the pot of soaking water for plucking is my most accurate thermometer.  We tested it by putting it in a glass of ice water....32 F exactly....then in boiling water....212 F exactly!  The stem goes into the foam perfectly, and Dad carefully pushed it close to the eggs while I checked to be sure the egg didn't get poked by the sharp probe.  I think it will work out much better than the little thermometer sold for incubators, stapled to cardboard.  Hatching is messy and the thermometer is always ruined.  This one is up off the floor of the incubator, so it will be just fine.

The other bit of trickiness with a cheap incubator is the moisture level.  The underside of a hen is warm and a bit humid, so the eggs need humidity.  There are wells in the bottom of the incubator to hold water.  That little green funnel with the straw is what Dad rigged up to get water into the channels easily without opening the cover, letting precious heat out.  And to also get the water past the eggs without wetting them directly.  The wells for the water have overflow drains, so you will also notice that the incubator is set on a plastic tote lid, to catch this overflow.  The water needs refilling every day or every other day, especially in the dry winter weather.
In a week we will candle the eggs to see if they are developing, and toss any that are not.  Live eggs become chicks at 99.5 degrees in three weeks.....dead eggs explode.  Nasty.  Beyond nasty.

But it is all worth the time, effort, and risk of a stink bomb to have some hens that will do all the work of raising chicks for me.  If I have a few reliable broody hens, I can buy or trade for eggs of other species, too, and these hard working mama hens will gladly raise ducks for me....and geese, and turkeys, and guinea fowl, and anything else I might sneak under her at night.  Another big plus....I hope to never buy chicks again.  Ever.

Have you hugged your broody hen today?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Simple beef stew

Easy-peasy, I promise!  All from simple, whole ingredients, with plenty of options to make it your own.
I used:
Pastured beef, about a pound cut into bite-size pieces (substitute a pound of ground bison if you can't get pastured beef, many stores carry this)
a hunk of salt pork, diced (substitute bacon or bacon grease)
a medium onion, cut into large dice
5-6 cloves garlic, sliced or minced, your choice
2 quarts broth, home-made or store bought organic (I used chicken because that is what I had)
At least three colorful vegetables, cut into large dice.  I used rutabaga, carrots, and chopped collard greens.
a handful of scallions, optional
a bay leaf
oregano (1-2 tsp?)
sage (1 tsp?)
basil (1-2 tsp?)
mushrooms, optional....fresh or dried.  I had some dried shiitakes and oyster mushrooms to use up.

First, fry up the salt pork until browned and a lot of grease renders out.  In a cast iron pan, of course.  (If you don't have a cast iron Dutch oven, use a cast iron frying pan to brown everything, then transfer it to your stainless steel stock pot.  Use some of the broth to get all the good brown bits off the bottom of the frying pan.)  Don't be afraid of the amount of is good for you, and the hearty veggies and meat in this stew will take up a lot of fat without being greasy.  This is a great way to get some good, healthy fats into you and your family.  The proper ration of fat means stable blood sugar and lots of usable energy.  If you are watching your weight, leave the carbs out of the potatoes or pasta.  Trust me, you won't even miss them.  You will get any carbs your body needs from the vegetables  in this stew.
Add the onions and stir occasionally until the onions just begin to brown.  Then add the garlic, and cook a little, just until the garlic "sweats" a bit.
Then add your mushrooms and cook them a bit.  I began this stew by boiling some water at breakfast and pouring it over a bowlful of dried mushrooms.  I set a small plate on top of the bowl to keep the mushrooms submerged...they love to float....and to keep the whole thing warm longer.  Leave them at least a half hour to rehydrate, then drain and trim and cut up to desired sized pieces.
Next came the broth.  Don't worry about using chicken broth in a beef stew if you don't have beef broth.  It is ok.  No one is grading this project except your tastebuds, and I assure you, you will get an A for this one.  A+ if you use beef broth, though. 

While the broth is coming to a simmer, peel and cut up your veggies.  Also add your herbs at this time so they have more simmer time.  You want the broth to simmer at least a few minutes before you add any veggies.  I wanted to intensify the flavor of the chicken broth, so I let it simmer, uncovered, until the level of the liquid had evaporated by an inch or so.  Then I added the rutabaga, carrots, and half a bag of frozen chopped collard greens.
Simmer until the veggies are all cooked, and add salt and black pepper to taste. 
Be sure to make plenty...this one reheats easily and is actually better the next day.   Have you enjoyed a soup made from scratch lately?  Nothin' like it!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greens and salt pork

Collard favorite!
Before you say "YUK!" have you tried them cooked with salt pork?  It is divine!

I start with three.....yes, three....bunches of collards for the hubster and myself.  Yep.  Three whole bunches for one meal.  That is how good these are.  We will have some type of meat dish with this, and fill our plates with collards.  Tonight it will be leftover pork from the shoulder I cooked the other day.

First, I dice and brown some salt pork.  Bacon will do, but I really like this with salt pork.  Besides, bacon is too precious when I have a bunch of salt pork in the freezer.
While that is cooking, I cut the stems off the leaves. 
Next, I wash each leaf and stack it for cutting.  You can certainly toss the whole leaves in the pot, and I will do this when in a hurry, but I also like to pre-cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces.
I add the cut leaves to the browned salt pork and the grease that has rendered out.  Be careful....the leaves are wet and it will splatter when you add them to the pot.  Hot grease splatters HURT!  Use caution and good sense for this step.

Then add some water, maybe a half a cup, and put the lid on.  Leave this to simmer on low for....well.....maybe 40 minutes to an hour.  Lift the lid on occasion and turn the greens, making sure the water has not cooked out.  If it has, add a bit more.

Be sure to chop the stems for your goats (or pigs or rabbits or whatever you might have...or your compost pile.)  Goats LOVE collard stems!
For a video instructional, check out my quick collard cooking tutorial on youtube.

Life is good!
Have you had your greens today?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Putting the girls to bed

There is nothing like feeding the animals in a cozy barn on a cold night.  Deep bedding, gorgeous hay, grateful goats....wind swirling outside but not coming into the open barn door.....heaven!
Hmm, what happened to Ginger's huge ears in this picture?  They are there, I promise!  See her baby bump?  Triplets again, maybe?

Peach, Second in Command, steals hay from Mya The Queen's hay bag while Mya is locked up in a stall temporarily.

Plum slips out into the dark (that light is all was very dark out tonight!) to see if anyone left anything good behind in their feed tubs....look at those rusty thighs on that girl.  Past time to copper bolus everyone.  The flash does make it look worse than it is, though.

Plum is wary...both Peach and Mya tend to kick her out.  She is very good at sneaking some hay and biding her time until she can safely slip in, usually as the Queen and First Princess start feeling full and satisfied.

She is a very good eater and makes sure she gets plenty.  She is also very clever at begging food from me when I am filling hay bags.  She's very quiet about it and gets a fair amount of hay into her belly before anyone else even notices that hay is being doled out.

I recently decided that the pregnant girls who are no longer lactating need some reserves.  Last spring, when Peach's first litter was triplets, she was absolutely skeletal for many weeks while she put everything into making those babies and then into producing milk for three.  Towards the end of summer she was finally a healthy weight again.  I'm not taking any chances this year.  They are all getting some reserves in the form of once a day graining. 

To do this, I needed to figure out a way to feed everyone and still maintain my sanity.  Rotating each girl through the stall or taking them out into the yard one by one did NOT work.  It meant a fight at the gate with lots of shoving and yelling and trampling....I was the one yelling and getting shoved and trampled.  Not working.  Hence this the girls on this video of me putting the girls to bed.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

No time to cook....oh, yes, you do!

I've been running like a maniac lately, with work, school, chores around the farmlet, and other responsibilities.  Although I didn't have time this week to make a make this stunning lasagna that my pal Ohio Farmgirl made, we still had some pretty wonderful food to eat.  Today's pork roast was the crowning culinary moment of the week.  I'm going to tell you how to make it.  You must make it your goal....this was beyond amazing.

Like OFG's meal, this one started in our yard last spring with the little piglets we bought and installed in the pig pasture.  No, started the year before, with the onion wine I made.  I only made it because the recipe was just too weird not to try.  Homemade wines are CHEAP to make if you are not crushing grapes.  Country wines are made with anything that will ferment.  Onion wine is made with onions, potatoes, wine yeast, sugar, and water....and maybe a bit of frozen concentrated grape juice, if desired.  But that is another blog, this one is about the roast.

I took the largest pork roast out of the freezer almost a week ago to thaw in the fridge.  It was a huge pork shoulder.  I didn't weight it, but it must've been close to 10 lbs, maybe even more.  I needed to marinate it with some raw apple cider vinegar to make it into a nutrient-dense food but it was too big for any bags I had in my cupboard...I had to find a large produce bag from the grocery store.  I put this into a pot I rarely use (I can't go a week without my pots!) and set it in the fridge to thaw and marinate, turning it occasionally.

Let me tell you about my day before you whine (like I used to, I assure you) that you have no time or energy to cook decent food.  If you are whining, you need new recipes....and a good smack.  Like I got.  From Dr. Christine Decker, who put me on this path to wellness through nutrition.  (The smack I got was figurative, she is very, very nice!)

Today started out like most Sundays, getting up early, doing some studying, then heading out to feed the goats and then to shower, change, and head to morning services, leaving the house shortly after 9:00 AM.  But not today, no, not today.  I was in the hay storage room (later to become the main kidding stall) filling hay bags for the girls when I heard the sound of goat horns rubbing on the outside of the wall where I was standing.  I said something aloud to one of the barn cats, and the rubbing became pounding....I made some exclamation and the pounding began to shake the wall a foot from where I was.  A peek out the was the buck!  He'd escaped, and when he heard my voice on the other side of the wall, he got very angry and started bashing it in earnest.  He has had to watch me leading the girls away from his pen and across the yard twice a day for months.  They are milked in the garage in good weather, where the mosquitoes are rare.  This infuriates him, and he blames me and considers me a rival....a strange rival who brings him food twice a day but also takes all his girls away from him.

I don't go into his pen anymore without my husband.  He is a big man and Dorian respects him.  Here I was, trapped in a stall with a large and angry buck bent on doing me harm....and no way out except through the paddock that he was now in, with the girls.

There was nothing in the stall that I could use to defend myself on a quick dash to the gate....I surveyed the situation for a few minutes (he was still pounding the wall, harder and harder...does that boy never get a headache???) and realized that it might be a while before the hubster noticed I was not in the house.  I needed to take action.  I took a cautious and silent look out the door...he was still pounding around the corner.  Peach and Ginger were between us....I took a cautious step out the door...he was still pounding and didn't hear me.  I made a dash to the gate and had my hand on the latch before he came to see what the noise was....and I made it through the gate just in the nick of time.

Hubby was summoned and he caught up the buck and put him back in his pen.  All his pounding had loosened the latch on his gate and it finally let go, so a quick repair and we were on our way.  Late. 

After services, I got home and had two hours to change into barn clothes, milk, filter the milk, eat lunch, prepare a bunch of paperwork for clients and gather my tools (two practice clients for my Nutritional Therapy Practitioner training), change again and look presentable.  I wouldn't be home until after 5 and then hubby and I needed to get out before it was totally dark and fix the buck's house....he'd removed the back (north!) wall the night before and I suspect that a chilly night had him more enraged than usual.  We didn't get into the house until about 6:30 PM. 

And this was waiting for us:
*Contented sigh*

In between milking and paperwork, I put the big cast iron Dutch oven on a burner to heat up.  Did some paperwork.  Added two big globs of bacon grease, turned the heat up to high, and added the marinated pork shoulder.  I seared it quickly on all sides, then settled it into the pot with the fatty side facing up.  I added about 8-10 ounces of onion wine from August 2010 and 6 whole cloves of garlic, and it went into a 320 F oven where it stayed from 1:30 until 5:30, when I turned the oven off during a dash into the house for a flashlight and some longer screws with which to fix the buck's house.

Peter made a big salad while I finished feeding the girls their night hay (pics tomorrow).  I shredded a generous portion of the pork, added sea salt and pepper, and drowned the whole thing in the greasy pan drippings.  The drippings where almost black and so rich.....My mouth is watering just typing this, and my stomach is full!  That does it, I'm going back for another portion...
There will be several more meals from this big roast, and these are leftovers we will not mind eating...not one bit!  The sauce and some of the pulled pork would also be amazing served over some whole grain carbohydrate, such as brown rice, whole wheat noodles, or even ployes to mop up every last drop of that dark brown loveliness.  We are still off grains, but there are plenty more pork roasts in the freezer and a five gallon batch of onion wine from this past summer's garden.  That is how good the onion wine is.  I made five gallons.  For about 27 cents a bottle, mind you.  Five gallons fills 25-26 standard wine bottles.  Enough to cook several hogs in and some to gift to friends who cook from scratch. 

Oops, getting off track again and getting excited about my favorite topic, gourmet food on a shoestring!

Who else loves gravy and pan juices?  Raise your hand!