Sunday, March 30, 2014

You never forget your first.....

Your first is always special, right?  Today I said goodbye to our first cow, Flower-bob.  

We bought her in 2009 and she gave birth to T-bone 



and then Clarabelle, but hasn't been able to get pregnant since. 
 It broke my heart, but we either had to sell her or put her in the freezer.  
Lucky for her, we didn't have room in the freezer.  
 
 So she went to her new home today.  
I didn't ask any questions about her fate....

Friday, December 20, 2013

Raising Pork Chop



We did a trial experiment this year raising a pig.  I wanted a heritage breed and I wanted a female, and I didn't realize the physical differences between the two apart from the obvious.  Well.....turns out we got a male and he'd already been castrated so they all looked alike to me!   So instead of starting a breeding program, we went ahead with raising our own pork.  We got a Tamworth, known for their deep 'bacon' sides.  They are also great at raising their own offspring, which is important since I don't want to be out there bottle feeding a dozen piggies.  We drove over 3 hours to get him, almost to the coast.  When we saw the size of his mom, my hubby and I looked at each other, eyes wide, wondering just what the hell we had gotten ourselves into!



Once we (meaning the breeder) had wrestled the piglet away from the rest, we put him in our small animal carrier.  He was about 30 pounds at the time.  

We brought him home and put him in the goat barn with our calf, Chuck.  They took to each other like long lost friends, prompting lots of jokes like "bacon wrapped filet", reminding us where they would each end up.  As usual, despite knowing for a month we were getting him, we weren't prepared, so hubby got right to work building a pen for him.  We used an upside down fruit bin as his house, and he quickly outgrew the opening.

 One night he went inside to sleep and grew so much overnight that he couldn't get out the door!!  Hubby had to run out and pick it up so Pork Chop could come out, then he cut the opening MUCH larger.



He was very well fed.  He got all the extra cow and goat milk, about 2 gallons per day, plus we got almost-free day old bread from the bakery in town, in addition to our scraps.

 I have a friend who gleans food from the grocery store, so he provided bins of fruit they would throw out.  We had friends give us some advice:  feed him fatty food, especially donuts!  So we started giving him a box of donuts a day.  I can't tell you how jealous the kids were that Pork Chop was able to eat donuts, when they weren't allowed to!  No, it wasn't very healthy for him, but we hoped that it would prevent the pork from being too dry.  He was a funny pig, kept us laughing, especially when we would try to wash out his milk bowl with the hose.  He would start 'huffing' at us, run to the bowl and flip it out....mostly over whoever was wielding the hose.  He would just get so incensed that we desecrated the milk bowl with mere water. Here's a video of him in action.

When we got our dog, she kept trying to herd him, but he would 'bark' right back at her, scaring her away, and then they would continue the 'dance' over and over again.

In September, my hubby took a pork butchering class and we had intended on completely butchering and processing him ourselves.  We bought a huge cutting board, 3'x5', large enough to fit a side of pork, good knives and luckily, a book with detailed pictures.  However, as life usually does, it didn't go as planned.  One morning, a few days before Thanksgiving,  I woke up to find that he had injured his hind leg.  Of course, that day was about 23 degrees and my hubby had a class to attend that afternoon.  After much discussion (screaming about bad luck and pulling our hair out trying to figure out what to do) we buckled down and started the deed of butchering him.  The thought of  seven months of hard work being put into raising Pork Chop to lose it all, made us ill.  So Hubby 'dispatched' Pork Chop, after I took one of the funniest pictures of him (he was a great subject) and I scratched him behind the ears for the last time and thanked him for his sacrifice for our family.

It didn't go smoothly and of course I was very emotional, having a soft heart and all, sobbing like a baby. Then we tried to truss him up, saving the hocks, but the ropes kept slipping off his legs and he would drop to the ground.  Finally we sacrificed the hocks and got him trussed up, and got to see just how HUGE he ended up being.  He was well over 300 pounds, and he made my very tall hubby look short!

As my hubby was butchering him, I sat on the trailer next to him reading to him from our basic butchering book and showing him the pictures (and trying to stay warm).

He had a lot of heart.  ;-)

We weren't going to scald and scrape the skin, instead we were going to skin him.  However, with the 23 degree weather, skinning proved almost impossible.  By the time we got done gutting him, my poor hubby was frozen through and he couldn't skin Pork Chop.  I had made numerous calls to both local and non-local butchers, trying to find a place that would take him and finish processing, but being it was so close to Thanksgiving and most butchers were overrun with deer, this was the hardest part!    We dropped him off to get processed and it took a couple weeks to get him back.  The weather turned extremely cold and the butcher's pipes froze at least twice.  We picked him up last week and couldn't wait to try out the meat. We ended up with 285 pounds of pork and a huge box of fat that I will be rendering into lard.  Hubby made Pork Chop pork chops and they were the best pork we'd ever eaten!  I love having our own meat processed, we get to choose the cuts and how it's packaged.  We ordered everything fresh, so we will be curing and smoking our own hams and bacon and making our own sausage.  Each bacon slab is about 25 pounds!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Homemade Rooster Sauce

The news came out last week or so that the Sriracha plant in California is being temporarily closed down by the California Department of Health.  Apparently, the fumes were annoying some of the neighbors, and the sauce is not cooked, only fermented, so it caused some concerns.   One of my Facebook friends posted the recipe and as luck would have it, I was gifted with a very large box of hot peppers that same day. My hubby is a HUGE fan of the sauce, so I thought I would try and make some myself.   I did two batches, one with red jalapenos and the other with green.

I followed the Allrecipes.com recipe for it:

                Ingredients

                        Makes about 1.5 cups

                        1 pound red jalapeno, stems cut off
                        1/2 pound red serrano peppers, stems cut off
                        4 cloves garlic, peeled
                        3 TBS light brown sugar
                        1 TBS kosher salt
                        1/3 cup water
                        1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

                Directions

  1. Chop jalapeno and serrano peppers, retaining seeds and                       membranes, and place into a blender with garlic, brown sugar,             salt, and water. Blend until smooth, pulsing several times to                   start.
  2. Transfer puree into a large glass container such as a large jar or pitcher. Cover container with plastic wrap and place into a cool dark location for 3 to 5 days, stirring once a day. The mixture will begin to bubble and ferment. Scrape down the sides during each stirring. Rewrap after every stirring and return to a cool, dark place until mixture is bubbly.
  3. Pour fermented mixture back into blender with vinegar; blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan, pushing as much of the pulp as possible through the strainer into the sauce. Discard remaining pulp, seeds, and skin left in strainer.
  4. Place saucepan on a burner and bring sauce to a boil, stirring often, until reduced to your desired thickness, 5 to 10 minutes. Skim foam if desired.
  5. Remove saucepan from heat and let sauce cool to room temperature. Sauce will thicken a little when cooled. Transfer sauce to jars or bottles and refrigerate.
I followed the directions exactly and on the second day I found this waiting for me:

 

So glad that I put the dish underneath the jar!

I let it ferment for 4 days, then continued with the recipe.  

Straining the solids out was the longest part of the process:


I bottled them up for Christmas gifts.

 I get my bottles from www.SKS-bottle.com  

I made my own labels, one for each variety:


Enjoy!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

DIY Advent Calendar

I remember as a child always having an Advent calendar.  It was always a picture of something wintry and had little numbered doors that opened up to some bad chocolate.  I started getting the kids some a few years ago, but I was always late ordering them and so they had to gobble up several days at once in order to catch up (I know, such a tragedy!).  Plus they are kind of expensive!  Last year, I decided to make our own and eliminate the waste and wait.


I bought some small muslin fabric bags off e-bay.  I had originally purchased them as packaging for my soaps, but I neglected to measure properly and they were too small.  *oops*  
However, they are perfect for some small candy canes or miniature candy bars.  


I stuck up some removable hooks on the wall between our family room windows, measured out some baking twine, and bought some brand new clothespins.  


Using red and green tempura paint, I painted the numbers 1 through 24, alternating colors.  For Christmas Day, I painted a tree with decorations.  The bags are very thin, so I put a piece of paper in each one to prevent the paint from bleeding through.

Please ignore the dirty windows, but you get the idea.  
Hope this gives you an idea to do it yourself!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Making Chicken Suet

The winters are understandably tough on the livestock.  The chickens are usually forced to stay in the coop since they don't like to venture out in the snow (or wind or rain).  Their egg production goes down to zero, which is natural for them as they need more light than we have right now, about 16 hours versus the 8 we get now.  Since we live off-grid, we don't have the extra energy in the winter to put in a lightbulb, and I prefer that our animals live as naturally as possible.  Since they only will lay a certain number of eggs in their lifetime, I'd rather not rush it out of them, and allow their bodies to have a vacation.  They eat layer crumble in the winter which I supplement with black oil sunflower seeds, since there aren't any bugs or fresh grass to gobble up.  They usually also go through a molt in the late fall and they need extra protein in their diets to regrow the feathers.  Most people are familiar with suet balls for wild birds, so I decided to make some for our chickens.  They are kind of expensive to buy, which is another motivating factor for me.

We usually save the grease when cooking, anyway, so we just saved it a little longer until we had a couple plastic containers worth. I know there is both pork and beef drippings, most likely some turkey and chicken fat too.

I picked up some silicone mini bread pans at the thrift store which were perfectly sized for a suet loaf.  I scooped out a little grease into each one, about half full, popped them in a 200 degree oven (on a cookie sheet for stability) until they were mostly melted.  

Then I filled it almost to the top with some bird seed (for wild birds).  


Since it's been below freezing outside, I set the cookie sheet outside to cool down and firm up.  Within an hour, it was firm enough to pop out and I wrapped them individually with wax paper.  

   



I'm storing them in the freezer (which you don't have to do if it's cool enough outside, but I actually have room in there right now!) and doling them out to the chickens every week.  Each loaf lasts about 4 days.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Free Buffet transformation!

I answered an ad on Freecycle for a free hutch/buffet. (Are you a subscriber to Freecycle?  You'll find it in the Yahoo Groups).  I LOVE wood furniture and I've been looking for a dresser for the kids' room f.o.r.e.v.e.r. but most are way out of my price range (ie. not free!)  I found an ad for a buffet with hutch and I jumped on it, drove the 50 miles to get it as soon as the poster responded.  I found that she had already removed all the finish off the buffet and some of it off the hutch.  Since I wanted the buffet first, and the hutch in the future (once the kids are done wrecking it...um, I mean using it!) I proceeded to do my research on how to paint it.  I visited many websites that stressed sanding in between coats of paint and varnish to finish it.



Buffet


Hutch

First I sanded the whole thing down, but didn't have to do much work, as the lady had done a LOT of work already.  I then painted the whole thing with primer.  

I was working in the barn, so I tried to keep my work area as clean as possible.  I didn't count on the cat, Bonnie, 'helping' me, though!



She jumped up on the top after I had the last coat of black paint done and proceeded to dance and shake her feet across the whole top!!! I had to sand her footprints and dirt off and do another coat of black.  After I finished painting, I finished it with a coat of Varathane Polyurathane, which promised to not yellow.  

After FIVE months, I finally finished it!  I'm ashamed that it took so long, but in my defense, I had a broken foot for almost 2 months.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  ;-) I skipped putting on the middle door, mostly because I know my kids and I figured that it wouldn't last very long.  However, they put on ALL the hardware (which they also picked out).  I was a little concerned that they would carve their names into the wood using the screwdriver, but they behaved....for now, and they love it.  Right now they are fighting over whose close go in which drawer.  

Now to get started on stripping the varnish off the hutch!!


Friday, September 27, 2013

Fall has arrived on the Prairie

Autumn has come roaring like a lion this past week.  
We've had a week of rain and wind.  I can't believe how quickly summer passed.



This reminds me of all the work we need to do to get ready for {shudder} winter.