Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Clever dog

I caught my old man dog, Gunnar, working on a sewing project yesterday morning. Although I miss having house cats, I don't miss them messing with my stuff, and putting things up high keeps the dogs out of them.....until now.....

Friday, August 16, 2013

Growing chicks

We've had 4 hens go broody so far this year....that is, they decided it was time to hatch eggs and hunkered down with determination.  When this instinct, bred out of most modern hens, kicks in, the hen will stop laying eggs of her own and just work hard at hatching the eggs she is on.  Her body temperature goes up, and for about three weeks she will leave the nest only about once a day to eat, drink, and eliminate....and what an eliminate it is!  Broody poo is a huge, stinking pile that has been accurately describe as "epic."

Twenty chicks have been hatched so far, with only one loss in the first day.  Two hens hatched six chicks each, and the other two hatched four each.  The last hen to hatch was the one that lost a chick.  There could have been something wrong with it, or she could have stomped on it.  I saw her stomp another chick clumsily and she is a big girl, a Buff Brahma purchased last year at the local feed store as a week old chick.

It seems like a different hen went broody about every three weeks or so, so each family of chicks is a different size, from teensy fluffballs to almost full grown.

 This foursome was abandoned by their mother weeks ago.  They are very independent.
Mama is still watching over these six, teaching them to forage and keeping them safe under her wings at night.
I love, love, love having so many broody hens raising chicks for us.  No mess, no fuss, she does all the work, and really teaches them to find their own food.  The hen above, with the six, rarely comes in for grain morning and evening.  She is finding plenty and teaching her young 'uns how to successfully find their own food.  This is the best thing about broody raised chicks!
I have one more hen hunkered down in a nest box, and tonight I will move her to a safe, isolated spot so she can safely sit on the eggs I'll give her tomorrow, once she's settled in and recovered from her move.  Both of these tasks will be done at night, since chickens are night blind, so she won't fuss too much and won't realize until morning that she's been moved.  At least it will seem like she doesn't know.  She'll accept it, at any rate.  She would be more likely to frantically try to get back to her original nest if I moved her in the daylight.  And the silly thing is sitting on nothing, trying desperately to hatch....air!  I'll give her some real eggs, fertile ones from our flock, and she'll be very content.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Remember our grape arbor project last year?  Look what happened in just one year!

 Grapes!  Glorious grapes!
Free grapes!  Organic grapes!  MY GRAPES!
Can you tell I'm excited about this project?  I can't believe how this one little neglected vine has almost covered this 16x4' arbor in just a year.  And is producing many pounds of grapes!
What will I do with all these grapes?  I'm not sure yet.  I'll let you know this fall, barring any fungus or insect or bird damage, when I harvest and taste and decide what they will become.  Eat with some lovely home made goat Gouda?  Make into a grape pie?  Seed and freeze for future pies?  Make into wine?  We will see!  Stay tuned, and meanwhile, look around your yard....can you squeeze in an arbor?  They can be simple, like ours, or add an architectural and artistic element to a more formal, suburban yard.  Add a table and chairs or even a hammock, and you also have an outdoor living space.
I even hang laundry on the small section that is not yet covered with vines when my lines can't hold all my wash for the week.  I took the hubsters undies down for this photo, however.....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bats in my belfry.....or.....

Frogs in my cellar!

I found the first tiny frog in our unfinished, wet-with-a-sump-pump basement over 11 years ago when we first moved in.  It was so beautiful, I thought it was a ceramic frog.  I was so enthralled that I'd found this beautiful piece of art, left by a former owner.  As I reached out to carefully pick it up, it jumped and stuck to the side of the freezer.

It was a wet summer and the frogs in the cellar multiplied this year, so I have to be careful where I step and how I pick things up, lest I accidentally squish a little beauty.

Sometimes they jump and land on my bare feet.  It always startles me and I shake them off before I have time to realize that it is not a bug but the little rubbery frog feet.  One day I'll have the control, I hope, to take a moment to enjoy the little critter on the top of my foot.

I know they eat bugs, so the little guys can stay forever, creating a little joy for me whenever I see them.  Anyone know what kind of frogs these are?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Healthy Potato Chips

Yes, healthy potato chips do exist!  You just have to make them!  This is a worthwhile project, because these are so delicious, you'll never want old, cold, purchased 'tater chips again.

Colorful chips made with organic potatoes from Eddy Farm in Newington, CT

Making potato chips is sinfully easy.  Just wash them well and trim off any spots....or peel them, if you prefer.  Slice them on a mandolin, or as we do, on the slicing blade on our box-style cheese grater.  Watch your fingers!  You can save the last chunk that you can't slice and cut it into French fries.

Put the raw chips in a large bowl and run cold water into it.  Stir gently with your hand.  Change the water and repeat until the water is clear, then soak them for a couple of hours or more.  Stir and change the water periodically if needed, if it is ever cloudy again. 

Then drain in a colander, and pat them dry carefully.  I then spread them out on kitchen towels, layering them on top of each other to save space on my counter.  The longer you let them dry, the crispier your chips will be.

Heat some tallow or lard just until it starts to smoke a little, then add a couple of handfuls of the chips, and stir to spread them out in the fat.  Don't crowd them too much.  Use a splatter guard if you are not using a frying machine.  I use my big Dutch oven, but before I had it, I'd use my biggest cast iron frying pan.

Let them cook for a few minutes, until you see them start to brown lightly.  Scoop them out with a skimmer (large flat "spoon" made of wire mesh, or just a big flat metal spoon with holes) or use a couple of slotted spoons to get them out and onto layers of paper towels or crumbled and smoothed brown paper bags, cut open and using the unprinted side.  Salt well.  Add the next batch to the hot oil and try not to eat all of the ones that are cooling!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato (and Cucumber) Salad

The last of our bacon was smoked this week (that is a whole other story!) and with the garden coming along nicely, I was craving a BLT sandwich.  Problem.  We are not eating bread right now, and still only eat anything with wheat only about once a month.  I don't want to buy or make bread that won't be used up or that will tempt us.

So....BLT salad was the solution.

Then I discovered that we are almost out of good, organic olive oil so I had nothing to make mayo with.  Gaah!  I wanted my taste of BLT!

Then I remembered reading about "wilted" salads in some of my very old cookbooks.  A dressing would be made with hot fat and tossed with lettuce, wilting it.  I would make a version of this using hot bacon grease.

It was amazing!

And amazingly simple.  For four dinner plates full of salad, I used:

1 head of leaf lettuce
2 tomatoes
3 medium pickling cukes (optional, but they were so fresh and crispy I couldn't resist)
Bacon, at least 1/4 pound, diced, more if you have it and want it extra bacon-y

Grease from cooking the bacon, 1/4-1/3 cup
Apple cider vinegar, preferably raw and organic, 1/8-1/4 cup, to taste
Black pepper to taste, maybe 1/4-1/2 tsp
Salt to taste if needed, as the bacon and grease will be salty

I cooked the bacon bits on low until quite crispy.  While that was cooking, I washed and cut the veggies.  I use a salad spinner to get the lettuce nice and dry.  I also run the tomato slices through the spinner to remove excess liquid....this works like a charm.  If you want to almost completely seed your tomatoes, dice them, then run them through the salad spinner, giving it a few good up-and-down shakes while it is spinning.  You'll end up with seed-free tomato chunks that are not the least bit watery.  If you have chickens, be sure to give them the seedy liquid, and watch them go nuts over it.

Put the cut and washed salad into a big mixing bowl, much larger than the serving bowl, as you will need to toss it quickly and vigorously once the dressing is made.  You also want the veggies to come to room temperature so the bacon fat dressing doesn't congeal on the lettuce.

When the bacon is cooked, drain the hot grease into a heat proof bowl or Pyrex measuring cup, and add some raw, organic apple cider vinegar and some black pepper and whisk it until well blended.   Pour immediately over the salad and toss, toss, toss.  Add salt if your bacon grease was not salty enough.

The recipe I used came from an older version of Joy of Cooking and called for 2 Tbsp bacon grease and 1/4 cup vinegar, but I didn't measure and I also used far more dressing than that for a head of lettuce.  I probably reversed the proportions with twice the grease to vinegar ratio.  This just goes to show that this is a very, very forgiving recipe.  Use what you have and don't worry about it.  It is bacon grease.  How can you go wrong?

Mayonnaise is made using about a cup of oil to a tablespoon or two of vinegar along with raw egg, so my dressing was more in line with those proportions, just no egg.  Although egg probably would have been wonderful, too, now that I think about it.

I would not refrigerate leftovers of this type of salad, as the bacon grease will harden in the cold.  This is a salad to eat up in one sitting.....and it was so delicious, we had no difficulty eating two large platefuls each!  To make it a heartier meal, you can add cheese and cold leftover roasted meat, either in the salad or on the side.  We used some leftover pork roast and home made goat Gouda.

The hubster enthusiastically requested that this recipe be repeated....often!  I have to say that I whole heartedly agreed!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hugelkultur raspberry update

Another hugelkultur update!  Remember last spring's raspberry project?  Here is what it looked like on May 1 this spring:

Most of that lush growth is raspberry shoots.  The sticks are prunings from the apple trees, strategically placed to keep the hens from digging in the rich hugelkultur soil.  Nutmeg is photobombing.
Since discovering the wonders of woodchips, I decided this would be a perfect mulch for my raspberries and for the apple and pear trees behind the raspberry row.  First, though, I needed a small wall to keep the woodchips off the lawn.  An inexpensive option is patio blocks.  We will see if the frost pushes them all out next winter/spring.  If it does, I'll simply redo it some other way.  I needed something quick for now.

The beginning of the wall to hold the woodchips off the lawn.
Weeding and carefully putting chips around and under the plants.
I dumped lots of chips on the lawn after putting down several layers of newspaper to kill the grass.
 This entire area will ultimately be covered in woodchips so no mowing will need to be done around the fruit trees and raspberry beds.  This should also dramatically reduce the need to weed the raspberries.  More chips will likely need to be added, especially the first few years.  We will see!
As the woodchips break down, they will feed the fruit trees and raspberry canes with mineral rich compost.  I'm so excited about this project!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hugelkultur update

Remember the berry project from last spring?  Here they are on May 1!

A year later and the currants are flowering!

 One of the two surviving gooseberry plants has a few flowers, too.
One of the gooseberries has filled out nicely. 
Only 2 of 8 gooseberries survived...but they did arrive from Burgess dead, after all.  All the replacement plants they sent were also obviously DOA.  They sent more recently, my third shipment, and about half looked completely dead and two of the maybe-alive ones were broken off just above the roots.  Order anywhere else.  One plant marked as a gooseberry was actually a grape, too.  Sheesh!  The aggravation and time lost was definitely not worth the perceived savings.
The currants are doing better, although the biggest one is still smaller than the gooseberries.  The bricks in the photos are to keep the hens from digging them up....they are obsessed with any area of disturbed soil.  The plan is to eventually woodchip this area, in the spirit of the film, Back to Eden.  More on this coming up soon!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sweet Nutmeg

I gave in.  I kept a doeling this year.  How could I not?  Look at that sweet face!

Princess of the Bricks!
This was Plum's second...her first was a single buckling, born in the wee hours of the night, snuck out without any assistance between my frequent peeks two years ago.  Plum didn't have a pattern yet, having only delivered one baby, so I wasn't sure if she'd do the same thing again.  She did.
Nutmeg was a singleton, born between barn checks around 3 AM on an unusually cold night.  I always get nervous about deliveries and checked about every hour.  I swear Plum checked her watch and knew my pattern, and purposely crossed her legs and looked unconcerned, then quickly shot that baby out the second the door closed behind me.  Plummy officially has a pattern now.  It is a pattern of easy births, so even though it is in the middle of the night, I can live with it!
As is usual here, I got her right onto a bottle.  Many people have expressed concern about this, thinking it has a note of cruelty to it for both mother and baby.  Let me tell you, it is far easier on everyone concerned to keep them apart right from the first moment than to separate them two three months later.  There is barely a whimper when the baby is "pulled" from the momma within minutes.  The wailing and crying two months later is heart wrenching and can be heard throughout the entire neighborhood.....and it is not just mine!

Nutmeg comes on well-supervised walks with the dogs while she is less than a week old.  At this age, she does not wander far from us and will come immediately when called.  All I have to do is call her and start to run, and she is at my side in a blink.

Since she is a single baby and has no siblings on the farm right now, she spends a lot of time with me while I garden and do spring clean up.  Since she is not eating solid food yet, I can take her everywhere on the property without fear of her destroying my plants.

Nutmeg likes to supervise building projects.

"Your wall is crooked!"  She is a hard task-mistress!
(Nutmeg is a couple of days old in these pictures, taken a few weeks ago.)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Coming soon.....

Got a new computer!  As soon as my picture files are loaded, I'll be back to posting....I have some great new projects going, updates on old ones (hugelkultur is amazing!), baby goats, and a broody hen so chick pics soon!

Please stand by.....

Monday, January 14, 2013

Economy and the ick factor

My goal is to add something new to my repertoire each year.  Harvey Ussery wrote that it is respectful of our animals to use everything that we can, to not waste any part of their valuable life.  OK, that is how I interpreted it for myself, but that is the gist of what he said.  The "ick" factor is pretty strong in today's society, and I'm no different.....except I am determined to change.  One bite at a time.  Shudder.

Last year we made use of heart and livers by making our sausage 20% organ meats.  After the first meal, we forgot it was in there.  Organ meats from healthy, pastured animals are amazingly good for us.  It was time to put on the big girl pants and learn to eat them.

This year I added the chicken feet to my broths.  That wasn't as bad as I'd anticipated.

This fall, we bought our very first side of beef.  I highly recommend saving up for this.  Freezers are cheap to come by, especially if you know an busy real estate agent or realtor.  Getting rid of a freezer in the basement is often on the to-do list of their selling clients and can be had for very little cash, or even for free.  I also see them listed in local "for sale" ads for bargain prices....or free!  They don't cost much to run, and the savings of buying an entire side will more than cover the cost of the freezer and the power to run it.  If you live where the winters are cold and it will be full mostly during winter, put it in the garage and it will barely run at all.

The butcher will ask you how you want it cut up and packaged.  Do some online research in advance.  Many small farm websites have detailed information.  Think about what you usually cook as far as beef goes.....actually, you can get pork this way as well.....and order mostly those types of cuts.  It is ok if you eat ground beef most of the time!  We like roasts and ground beef, and rarely cook steaks.  So I got mostly these cuts, and asked for a few steaks so I could expand my cooking skills.  I've always enjoyed steaks at restaurants, not at home.  If the steak is not cooked right at a restaurant, you can send it back.  Not so at home.  But that will change....this year.

Buyiing an entire side, or even an entire animal, can be economical in more ways if you are adventurous and aren't afraid to rattle a few pots and pans.  Most people don't want the bones, fat, organs, and unusual cuts, and these are actually thrown away!  When I got my side of beef, the person taking the other half didn't want anything but standard grocery store style cuts.  Know what that meant?  Yup.  I got to have ALL of the other stuff, at NO additional cost to me.  That's right.  You pay a set fee, called "hanging weight," which means the weight of the side before it is cut and wrapped.  How much of that actually ends up in your freezer is up to you.

We got many, many more pounds of great food for free along with our purchased beef.  With the bones from the entire cow, I canned 54 jars of beef broth!  You can't buy broth of this quality or nutrient value in any store, no matter how many times you see words like "organic" or "natural" or "free-range" on the label.

I also rendered all the trim fat into tallow, which is the best fat for deep fat frying.  I reserved the best for this, and made some into a batch of very, very premium soap.  A bit more will go into the very best moisturizing cream, although with my dietary changes over the past few years and using only goat's milk soap to wash with, I have very little need for skin protection.

I'll admit that some of the liver.....a beef liver is HUGE....was given away (it was reported to be heavenly by liver lovers) and some will be fed to our dogs....hey, they also need good food!  It was FREE.

The heart is in the freezer...well, half of it is.  Half went into our sausage this year.  The other half is waiting for the rest of the ingredients needed to make a mincemeat recipe I found in one of my antique cookbooks that looks very promising.  I love mincemeat pie, and the spice, fruity recipe will likely hide any ick flavor.

Something terrible happened with my beef, though.  There was a mis-communication and the tail and the kidney suet was tossed in the trash.  That turned into something wonderful, though.  When you talk to the actual farmer who raised the animals, you are no longer just a number in a ledger.  It is not the same as buying meat on foam trays in the grocery store.  You develop a relationship.

So something fantastic came from this goof.  The farmer felt bad about this, and promised to give me these items from the next cow.  I got the call this week.  I will not only get the tail and the suet, but all the usual things that are tossed in the trash....all the bones and trim fat, all the organs, anything else that will be thrown away.

Meanwhile, I spent some time with the butcher, who works in his own small butcher shop.  We are also developing a relationship that will be mutually beneficial.  He is setting up a mobile slaughter truck.  (Ick, I know, you don't want to think about this.  But animals die to feed you and me, and isn't it better that they die with the least amount of stress, fear, and cruelty?  Mobile slaughter units are a way for smallholders to deal with this unpleasant task right on the farm....just by writing a check.  I think it is a brilliant solution.  And far kinder to the animals.)

Best thing ever.....I had a conversation with the butcher about getting the "trash" from other animals once he is up and running.  There are legal ins and outs to this, so not all can do it.  For example, if I send a pig to slaughter and don't want the bones and fat, the slaughterhouse can't sell them.  If the farmer sends an animal and gets it back all cut and wrapped and then sells it piece by piece, he can sell the bones, fat, organs, etc.  But he usually doesn't, as nobody wants them, so they can be purchased for a song, in bulk, if he knows in advance.  I've set myself up to be able to do this.  Ask and you shall receive.

Today's story, though, is really about the beef tongue.  Ick.  Double ick.  It LOOKS like a tongue.  Nasty.

So I corned it, like corned beef brisket (recipe here).  Once it was peeled (shudder again) and sliced, it was the most tender corned beef I've ever eaten.  It was marvelous on sourdough bread with home made fermented mustard, and later, hubby diced it up and scrambled it with his breakfast eggs.  A beef tongue is HUGE, by the way.  Several pounds of tender, succulent meat.

In the brine for 10 days while I try to forget.....

What will you be creative with this year?  Can you find a way to be a bit more brave and honor the animals a little more?  

Or let the dogs do so....they have to eat, too!  Nothin' wrong with that!

The shameless commerce portion of today's post:  My next get healthy/stay healthy class starts soon!  January 28, 2013, to be exact.  All via telephone, and you can sign up, put the phone on speaker mode, and invite as many to listen with you as you can fit in the room.  Twelve weeks of great information and some great give-aways, too.  For details, click here.

Oh, and you never have to eat any ick if you don't want to, promise....but there will be bacon!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Three little videos

A few videos I took early last month:

This one is under two minutes and shows a silly little hen that decided to go broody in late November.  Silly girl, spring is the time to hatch chicklets!  Although it is very dark at times, be patient, she moves into the light a few times.  There is a black hen from this spring's incubator hatch, from one of the Icelandic eggs.  I got these for their broodiness, and she was so determined to sit on nothing...nope, she had no eggs under her.... that I gave her four eggs to hatch just so she'd survive.  Some hens are so determined that they won't get off the nest until the babies hatch.  She was one of them.  I knew survival of chicks in December was not likely, but wanted to save the hen.

Sweet baby chicks and sweet mama hen clucking!

In the background of the hen and chicks video, you can hear Peach loudly complaining about something.  Here is a 9 second video to show you what the problem was:

Determined little bugger, ain't he?

And finally, about half a minute of what our farmlet was like about a month or two ago, every morning until everyone was too tired to run.  I didn't know it yet, but Plum was newly pregnant and the buck sure knew it!  Gentle giant Ginger was not, nor was she ready for Charm's advances.  Worry not about goat molestation, dear readers.  When Ginger finally wanted Charm's attention, she was rather pushy about it.  Quite the hussy, actually.

But not today!

Jan 28, 2013, is the start date of my next teleclass series, Foundations of Vibrant Health  What does this have to do with reproduction on the farm?  Not much!  Well, sorta.....reproduction on the farm leads to nutrient-dense food.  But you don't need a farm to be healthy.  You just need to be armed with information that you won't find elsewhere all in one course!  There are some cool give-aways, too!  Click here for details.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Crunchy, salty snack

Sometimes you just want something crispy and naughty.  I did, so I made some chips.

This was actually a very special moment for me.  I hadn't eaten potato chips for almost 20 years, since I became "allergic" to potatoes.  Or so I thought.  Turns out it was the new chemicals, or the cocktail of chemicals, used on commercial potatoes.  I can eat organic taters in moderation, or better yet, home grown tubers.

Just starting to sizzle....

First I sliced up some small, scrubbed potatoes with their skins on with the slicing blade of my food processor.  A mandolin would work as well, as would a sharp knife and a steady hand.  I soaked them in cold water for a while and rinsed them well.

Then I heated up a pint of good lard.  Tallow would be even better, but I was out, so Vitamin D pastured lard it was.

A sprinkle of sea salt and a moment to cool and yowza, this is the only way to eat chips!  Best thing is, these are not only good for you, but it is almost impossible to overindulge when you make them yourself.  They become a special treat, and are not full of the chemicals and bad fats used in the commercial chip industry.  If you haven't done this, you simply must try it!  Home made chips bring snacking into the realm of nutrient-dense health food and the flavor is unbeatable.

Check out my latest course, Foundations of Vibrant Health, starting January 28, 2013, via teleconference!  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Poultry in the freezer

As we get closer to our goal of raising all of our own animal foods, spring and fall/early winter are very busy times on the farmlet.  I've been taking pictures, and will try to catch up over the next few days on what's been going on here.

The Green Mile

I admit that I lost count, but at least 25 birds made it to freezer camp this year, and there are about 5 more roosters that are about big enough now to make the trip.  It is an unpleasant task, but one that was normal in most families not that many decades ago.  There was a time when cruelty in the food industry was not an issue for the most part.  Now, sadly, it is rare when an animal used for food has a very happy life and only one bad moment.  If that.  It is pretty quick, really, if done right.  They don't really know what hit them.  

The most insulting part for them is being picked up and carried, and that happens regularly in their lives, for example, when a rooster gets over the fence and into a neighbor's yard and must be retrieved.  You should hear the squawking and complaining!  Those instances are worse for the rooster or duck than freezer camp day, when we are very careful in how we handle the birds and make it as stress-free as humanly possible.

Good tools make things go quickly and smoothly and are worth the investment.

One thing we did this year that was new was to raise 10 ducks.  One thing we learned this year is that you must process ducks at just the right time, as they are shedding feathers, or plucking will be a nightmare task that is just about impossible.  We waited until we didn't see them shedding feathers, as we do with chickens, being duck newbies.  We got 4 ducks into the freezer that day looking like unshaven drunks.  We planned to sell the rest instead of continuing.

 Our ducks in late June.

Then we cooked that first duck.

Who cares if there are feathers left on the duck.  The fat that runs out and fries the bed of coarsely diced root vegetables that the duck is roasting on top of creates flavors that are unmatched in the culinary world.  Then there is the pint of rendered fat left over that can be used to re-create this flavor in future meals of roasted veggies, or to add a lovely flavor to other dishes.  The six remaining ducks stayed in their pasture, unsold.

Meanwhile, my father built this plucker, based on a number of youtube videos.  Do a search for "drill plucker" and you'll find many versions.  This one was built for just a few dollars, using cheap rubber bungees, a bolt, and a pvc end cap.

Dick's Plucker

Good ol' duct tape!

Be sure not to block the vents of the drill with the tape.  I also used a couple of the leftover bungees to secure the drill.  You can also bolt the drill to your table if you'd like, if your drill has a hole for doing this.

This is not the perfect plucker, and you must wear sturdy gloves or get bruised.  But is sure was fun to use!  Dad and I had a contest, with him using the drill plucker while I was hand plucking.  It was pretty close, but my hand plucking was much harder on the hands, so I like using the drill plucker.  For the ducks, it would tear the more tender skin of the female ducks, so use caution, and consider using it for areas other than the more delicate underside of the bird.  It was fine on the roosters, no tearing of the skin at all.

There is a splash zone, however, than anyone who wears spectacles will discover rather quickly.  Ask me how I know.

You don't have to raise your own food to be healthy.  Lots of details in my current course, Foundations of Vibrant Health, starting Jan 28, 2013 via teleconference!