Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Happy Thanksgiving

Here it is, the grand finale of this favorite holiday meal, on display as a promise, but protected by a heavy glass dome, barring us until the cream is whipped, the coffee has been brewed, and the table has been reset.  It's one of the best moments of the entire happy day.   

Since I've been hosting a thanksgiving dinner of my own, I've expanded the holiday to include taking a day off work on the Wednesday before the big day.  It's wonderful.  I spend the entire day making pies and making lists of all the things Brandon needs to do to get ready.  It's incredibly productive!

I can't remember how many times (5?) I've cooked a giant turkey and some of the traditional side dishes, but this was the first year that I did my grocery shopping without a list, and I don't think I had to send someone to the store for forgotten items any more times than usual, so I must be getting the hang of this!  The chocolate pie above, and pumpkin pie, I baked the day before, but this year (at Brandon's request) the apple pie went in the oven after dinner so we could have warm apple pie for dessert.  Revolutionary!  

I went all-in this year, and incorporated napkins featuring turkeys and squash in an autumn pallet. Nothing says Thanksgiving turkey like decor with a Thanksgiving turkey, right?  

One of the fun things about preparing Thanksgiving dinner is getting to use so many of my dishes and cookware that I don't get to use very often, or at least not all at the same time.  I have roasting pans and casserole dishes that only see use for this meal.  Because I like a reason to scour peddlers malls and flea markets searching for the appropriate dish for, say, baking sweet potatoes that are topped with both chopped pecans and roasted marsh mellows, that will allow the lid to be placed on top to keep it warm without messing up the perfect golden crust on the marsh mellows, I'm thankful every year that someone else doesn't say they want to host next time.  How would I justify all those gravy boats?  

The turkey this year was raised by our friend Joe.  If you remember, last year Joe raised a mixed flock of heritage turkeys, and we all got together and butchered them ourselves.  In exchange for our labor, Joe gave us one of the largest turkeys.  It was delicious.  This year, Joe raised all white turkeys, which are the kind that have been bred to produce giant birds in shorter order, like the ones we're used to from the grocery store.  Joe kept his turkeys on his organic pastures, and moved their coops and fences throughout the pasture so the grass was always fresh.  This turkey was also delicious, and although we've had numerous conversations comparing the merits of farmer Joe's turkeys, we've yet to come to a conclusion about whether or not a heritage turkey tastes better than a white one.  

Before I dismantled the turkey, I made sure to ask everyone if they wanted to see the bird before I messed with it.  We all wanted to see.  Especially since we've been talking about this turkey since the spring, when Joe got the baby turkeys to raise, and I placed an order.  Having turkeys for the past two years that we planned for and discussed prior to grocery day, has made the turkey more fun and interesting, for sure.   

Do you like my Thanksgiving glasses and pitcher?  These are a flea market treasures, and I only get them out one day a year.  They have orange circles and yellow emblems with corn and wheat sheaves around the top.  For some reason Brandon seems surprised by these glasses every year and makes jokes about socialist artwork.  

When the meringue on the chocolate pie shrank a little, little globes of liquid sugar formed on the surface, which made the pie sparkly.  Someone asked if I put sparkles on the pie on purpose, and I quickly confirmed that I did.  Sparkly pie is the best!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shameless Pictures From My Kitchen

Brandon and I were attending an extended family meal recently, when someone was so excited by the home made biscuits and gravy that they pulled out their phone to take a photo.  As she was doing this, she told us how she hates it when people post photos of their dinners on Facebook, so she was surprised to find herself photographing her food.  There was a chorus of agreement from the other Facebook members at the table, and the conversation proceeded around how annoying it was when someone posts pictures of their dinner.  I don't have Facebook, but I still felt very sheepish when I admitted I frequently think my food is beautiful and take it's picture, and I even share these photos on my blog, or force my friends to see them on my phone, or in texts. I asked if the photos of food people share that was annoying to them was beautiful food, and no one seemed to think so.  

This makes me realize the inadequacy of amateur photography to truly convey the sense of accomplishment that comes from procuring a delicious dinner.  You can see my pork chop in the photo above, but what you might not notice is that I prepared this pork chop, which came from a pig I met as it was being carefully raised by a good friend, without messing it up!  I was so excited by the success of this pork chop that I just had to take it's picture.  And, despite my new self consciousness about annoying folks with photos of my dinner, I am sharing my food pictures with you.  I wish I could give you a bite - that's how good this pork chop was! 

When I scroll through my photo gallery on my phone, I notice that a very large percentage of my photos are of food and food preparation.  Especially if it's something I've never made before, or something I'm psyched about.  Like toasting nuts.  Toasted nuts are so pretty - and what a wonderful smell!  

Unfortunately, the toasted nuts don't look as pretty once they've been through the food processor and mixed with almond butter, coconut oil, chopped dates, whey powder, honey, and eggs.  

But once they were baked with toasty coconut sprinkles and cut into bars, they regained some of their composure.  I've never made my own power bars before, but I was inspired to try making some when I started reading the ingredients on the packages while I tried to find a convenient snack for Brandon to take in his gym bag. If soy is bad, and sugar is bad, and coconut oil and eggs are good, then this recipe for home made protein bar should be good right?   It tastes really good, and it's still convenient for him since I was the one who did all the work.   

Have you ever cooked one of these crazy looking vegetables before?  I took way too many photos of this romanesco cauliflower, because I couldn't get over how strange it looked.  

It's like an alien vegetable!  It caused quite a stir while it resided in my refrigerator.  

I diced it up, tossed it in some coconut oil and salt, and baked it in the oven.  It's really good, like broccoli.  

And of course, while toasting nuts to make healthy protein bars and roasting alien vegetables, it's important to admire the home made blackberry wine, right?  

I didn't realize that I had any of the 2013 blackberry wine left until I was scrounging in my "wine rack" (a precarious stack of wine bottle boxes in the corner of my bedroom), and got so excited when I discovered it, that I knocked an empty wine bottle off the shelf above me and got a good thump on the head.  I now have much more appreciation for bar brawlers who get whacked on the head by bottles in movies.  That really hurts!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Sun Rise on Charlotte NC

This is the view from my hotel room window this morning.  This will be the last sun light I see all day, since I have an another entire day of conference lectures in the hotel. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tending a Pot of Pig Fat

Brandon tells me he's always amazed that I can continue to find unique distractions from making progress on our farm house, and that each distraction is weirder than the last!  He told me this last weekend, when instead of helpfully nailing up ceiling boards in the kitchen, which was our selected chore, I spent nearly the entire work day tending a giant pot of melting pig fat.  Is that really so weird? 

You may recall the giant cast iron pot and stand that I bought in January, at the farm auction. Well, I've been waiting for the perfect time to break it out of storage and put it to use.  That time came when I had to squeeze an entire frozen pig into my freezer, which meant I had no room for the nearly fifty pounds of frozen pig fat I had stashed away from the past two pigs.  I don't really think of myself as a pig fat hoarder, but when faced with mass quantities of frozen pig fat needing a home, I had to reassess my hoarder status.  Brandon may have a point.  

Since the giant pot had some rusty and sticky crud in the bottom, I put in some of my oldest fat from my freezer collection in it to melt and sort of clean and season the pot.  By the time I got the fat good and melty, and sort of scrubbed it around in the pot cleaning off the crud, the fire underneath was roaring and I had chopped up some of the partially frozen fat that I wanted to melt and keep. I used a dipper to scoop the melted cruddy fat and unmelted bits from the pot, and poured it on the wood underneath, which really got a good blaze going.  This also created a pungent burnt pork rind smell which began to permeate my clothes and hair as I worked around the fire.     

Puck, by the way, thought this was the best thing ever, and spent the entire day guarding the pot of fat and snatching up any bits I dropped.  At first, I thought it would be best to melt my fat in small batches.  I also thought I could leave the fat unattended while I went in the house to work on the ceiling.  After seriously scorching the first batch, as you can see in the photo above, I realized that not only do I have to continually tend the fire and stir the fat as it melts, to keep it from burning, I also need to put lots of fat in at once so it doesn't get so hot.  This job was turning from play to actual work.  

I ladled the scorched lard and burnt briskets of pork into the only container I could find that wouldn't melt - our drywall spackle holder, which is sitting on the ground in the photo above, and dumped my next batch of chopped up fat in the pot.  I immediately realized that the residual burnt black bits in the pot were going to contaminate my next batch, meaning I would never be able to produce the pretty white lard of my dreams.  Oh well, the giant pot is too heavy to lift and to hot to touch, so washing it was not really an option.  Now I know.  

After the burnt fat cooled, I poured it into an empty plastic salad container.  Brandon and I were amazed at the black oil that I made.  It looks just like oil!  Considering pig fat is probably very similar to human fat, it sort of weirds me out to think that a significant percentage of me is made of oil.  

Since I wasn't planning to eat this oil, but instead decided to mix it with bird seed to make winter bird feeders for the wild birds and the chickens, I used the black oil even though it was burned.  Maybe the birds won't mind so much.  

The rest of the fat melted at a much slower rate, and I didn't leave it unattended for long, so I think if I hadn't burned the first batch the oil might have been clear, which would cool to the white color of good lard.  

As you can see in the photo above, it's much better than the first batch.  I hope the stupid birds appreciate all my work!

By the time it was dark, I still had plenty of unmelted fat, but decided six giant bird feeders was enough, and I was exhausted.  The dog looked like he was going to explode from eating so many dropped bits of fat and bird seed, and Brandon made me promise repeatedly that I would shower as soon as we got home and put my clothes directly in the wash, since the crispy pork rind smell was particularly potent in the close confines of the car on the way home.  

I'm glad I had this practice round with the pig fat.  Not only did I get my cast iron pot seasoned, use up my freezer fat, make lots of bird feed, practice making mass quantities of lard, and get out of hanging ceiling boards, I also learned it's way easier to use the crock pot or do it on the stove top!  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Who's There?

Who am I talking to, anyway?  Myself, for sure, and Future Rain, but also some friends and family that tell me they regularly read my posts (Hi Mom!), but are there people that regularly read my posts who I don't know?   Secret friends and silent readers who know the names of my chickens and what my compost looks like? Well, one of the fun thing about this blog is that there are ways to get hints about who is reading, if anyone.   

I started writing in this space almost two years ago, but it wasn't until July of 2013 that I became blog savvy enough to figure out how to use Google Analytics.  Google Analytics keeps track of all sorts of things about a website, which I haven't figured out, but I do know how to look at the audience overview page, which summarizes how many times someone looks at my blog, which they call a "session".  Since I've been tracking, this blog has had over four thousand sessions.  This includes every time someone clicks on one of my pages, even if they quickly realize it's stupid it's not what they were looking for, and they move on within a second.  It also keeps track of how many separate users visit the page.  So far, over thirteen hundred different people have clicked on my blog, and about sixty-nine percent of these people are returning visitors.  

Well, that might sound like there are lots of us here, and if I look at the map to see where all these users are, at a glance it even looks like some of us are sprinkled throughout the world.  But in reality, most of us are in the United States.  For example, twenty-eight folks in Australia have visited the blog, but if I look closely at the numbers, I can see that the average time they spent reading was about twelve seconds.  So, either Australians are speed readers, or my content is not gripping enough for the Australian audience.  They must have missed the post about the chicken feet, huh?

What I regularly glance at, is the number of users per day or per week in the last month.  What I come away with from a quick look, is that every week there are thirty or so folks checking my blog, and probably three of those are people who just wandered in.  I may not know who you are, but I know you are there!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Order a Butchered Pig From a Farmer

I'm not sure I would have ever been brave enough to order an entire pig from a farmer if Brandon's dad hadn't helped us years ago.  But even then the situation was different, because he raised the pig and coordinated with the butcher, so all we had to do was pick up the boxes of meat.  Brandon remembers always having pork to eat from pigs his dad raised when he was growing up, and has some funny stories about trying to hold a pig still while his dad gave it a shot and of helping cart off pig intestines in a wheelbarrow when his dad butchered a pig in the barn.  As soon as Brandon and I had a house and room for a freezer, he offered to raise enough pork for us too.  

Before he raised a pig for us, I didn't even eat sausage, much less cook cuts of meat more exotic than ground beef or boneless pork chops and chicken breasts.  I was never a big meat eater anyway, and I heard too many horrible stories of meat packaging facilities to trust meat that was ground up and seasoned like sausage.  Who knows what's in there, right?  But, finding myself with a freezer full of sausage, roasts, hocks, bacon, and jowl meat that was processed by a butcher my father in law trusted, I opened my mind and my taste buds, and immediately realized what a good thing we had.   

It wasn't long before Brandon's dad was raising a beef cow for us too, and even a meat goat. I started to learn to cook cuts of meat that I had never even eaten before.  Because all we were paying for was part of the food costs and butcher bill, we were getting to eat steaks and tenderloin on an income that was only hot dog and ground chuck worthy.  We were spoiled!

After Brandon's dad died and no one was left in our family with the ability to raise animals, I had to adjust to grocery store prices for meat again, after years of getting to skip the meat counter.  Talk about sticker shock!  Not only was the meat expensive, but it didn't taste as good.  It was time to find a farmer.  Remember those pretty pigs I was feeding pears a couple of weeks ago?  

Last week, Farmer Joe delivered eight boxes of pork!  But, before the pigs were delivered to the butcher, I had to fill out the "cut sheet", which is instructions for the butcher about how I like my meat.  Maybe you can see the cut sheet in the photo above if you click on it an zoom in.  

The cut sheet gives options for each type of meat; shoulder, loin, side, ham, trim, and variety meats.  I wasn't really sure how I liked many of these things, but I took my best guess and had many conversations around the water cooler at work with my two work friends who also ordered a pig from Joe.  I selected breakfast sausage for my trim, smoke seasoning on my bacon, bones in my chops, and a lot of other options.  I recommend always ordering bulk meat at the same time as coworkers, since the office buzz focused on spare ribs and pork liver for weeks prior to the actual delivery, and now we get to compare recipes as we each try the different cuts.  It's a real team building exercise.  

Since Brandon and I split our pig with my parents and Byron and Shanna, we got to bundle up in the chilly garage and sort through all the meat before we took them their share.  It was like all my birthdays and Christmas's came at the same time!  Each box was opened with ooos and ahhhs - "bacon!  chops! yummy sausage! pig heart...?"  Since all the cuts don't come in even numbers, we had to make some decisions about who gets what, which to anyone listening would have sounded something like this "bacon for me, liver for them, bacon for me, neck bones for them, bacon for me, caul fat for them, bacon for me, pig feet for them..." I'm kidding.  Brandon wouldn't let me cheat (he will regret that when I serve him that pig heart, I'm sure).   

If you are curious about how much food comes in a pig, check out the photo of the package list above.  We got forty two pounds of sausage from a three hundred and fifty pound porker!  

Brandon, accustomed to the frugal pig rearing practices of his father, and the prices you only get when it's your dad that is charging you, was having a little sticker shock at the cost for this pig.  At $3.75 per pound for the hanging wait, Joe was giving us a good deal, and a price that is in line with or slightly less than other local pig farmers who raise their pigs on organic pasture, feeding locally grown non-GMO feed, and are antibiotic free.  In the end, we got one hundred and sixty-five pounds of pork for $861.00, which works out to $5.21 a pound.  Just for a comparison, I looked on-line at the prices listed on a Kentucky farm that sells cuts of naturally raised pork from their farm, and did some quick math to see how much it would cost to buy the cuts of meat individually from them.  Not counting some of the odd bits, like liver and fat, which they didn't have listed, but just to buy the chops, sausage, hams, and other more normal cuts in this quantity would have cost $270.00 more than we paid.  Buying in bulk really does save money, it's just hard to come up with all that cash in one go.  

Once all the meat was sorted and stored and we scrambled up a quick dinner of tortilla's stuffed with peppers, onions, and some of the best sausage we've even eaten, we forgot all about the cost and the hassle of sorting and storing meat.  I really hope Joe gets more pigs next year!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tasting the 13 Hop Beer

Cheers! Earlier this week Jamie and I popped the caps off of some of our most recent home brew beer.  This is the beer we called 13 Hop, for which we used all the hops harvested from the garden in 2013.  We learned some things making this beer.  First of all, we now know that two quarts of dried hops is a lot of hops!  This beer is fantastically hop flavored.  Since we like hops, we like that it's plenty strong.  Notice how dark the beer is when held up to the light?  We don't remember what kind of barley we used, but whatever it was makes a lovely reddish color.  

After the first big gulp, my comment was "this beer tastes expensive!", to which Jamie agreed. Now that we've been making beer for a few years, and had many leisurely shopping experiences at the local Liqueur Barn trying to figure out what ingredients to buy, I can recognize when a a home brew beers complicated flavor equates to a higher bill at the cash register.  This beer packs a punch with all those hops, but also has a very dark malty flavor.  Since we used home grown hops and left over bits of specialty barley, the only thing I had to buy was the malt extract (twenty-six dollars) and packet of yeast (about a buck).  This beer tastes like I would have paid more than ten dollars for a six pack off the shelf, and we made it at home for around four dollars for a six pack.  Not bad!  If we could ever get it together to make beer using all grains, and skip the malt extract, we could make it for a fraction of that price.  Not that we brew for any reason other than the fun of it, but it's nice to think that we find our own product worth more than it's price tag.   

The problem with using only grains instead of the more expensive extract is the additional time it takes to brew; it changes a four hour experience into a six hour experience.  We have a hard time squeezing an all grain brew into a weeknight.  Especially since we like to drink beer while brewing.  After a certain hour, drinking beer makes me sleepy.  

We also learned with this beer that it's not a disaster if we leave the beer resting on the sediment longer than we're supposed to.  This is probably not a good thing for us to learn, since the fear of losing all our hard work is motivation to finish our beer.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

June, the Newest New Chicken (Don't Ask About Rosie and Egret)

Let me introduce you to June, my newest new chicken.  June is still very shy, and very terrified of mean old Mrs. Hall, who has some very old fashioned ideas about the the pecking order.  So far, when the coop door is closed, June spends most of her time hiding on the perch, or cowering behind the water bucket.  

June dresses in all black, except for her bright red face and comb.  Despite the fact that she doesn't seem to mind standing in chicken poo, I think she is very elegant, and she is exceptionally soft when cuddled.  

Why do I have a new chicken?  What happened to Rosie and Egret?  Are you sure you want to know? 

Well, I started to have my suspicions about Rosie and Egret early on, but it wasn't until right after I wrote this post, that my suspicions turned grave.  Turns out they were both roosters!  This is not the first time this has happened.  Mrs. Hall and I don't ever talk about the first Helen, since she he was only with us for a few months before I did an after dark switcheroo, and replaced the original Helen with a confirmed female Helen, but we both remember.  

This time, I didn't try to trick myself into believing that I could return Rosie and Egret to the farm and they would live out their lives in rooster bliss like Mrs. Hall and I imagine with Helen number one.  In reality, only a few roosters get to live beyond frying age on any farm, and mom already had surplus roosters.  Surplus roosters are a problem because they fight each other, harass the hens, crow, and don't lay any eggs.  Mom already had three extras, and Rosie and Egret would have been number four and five.  It was time for me to test myself by butchering animals that I cared for and named.  

We assembled our gear and our team, and did the deed near the edge of the forest at my parents house.  Jamie manned the killing cones, Brandon and Shanna did the plucking, and Shanna and I eviscerated.  We set up our gear, did the work, and cleaned up the mess in just a few hours, and had five nice looking chickens for the freezer.  Maybe Rosie, Egret, and I never hit it off that well after all, because I didn't have any problems preparing them for the freezer.  

When mom was trying to select which of her roosters to cage up so we could butcher them, I recommended she pick mean ones, ugly ones, or tasty looking ones.  I didn't even consider that Curly, the poor ugly rooster I hatched in the incubator would be on the list of candidates!  He's been the king of his flock for quite a while now, and was doing a pretty good job too.  Unfortunately, his ugly comb and bent toes meant he was number one on the ugly rooster list, and because mom's flock has lots of black and white hens, she decided to select the black and white roosters for culling and keep two pretty multicolored ones, hoping that future chicks will take after their fathers.   I can't deny that it was upsetting to see Curly in the killing cone. He was the most vocal about being handled too, which is probably normal when you have an older rooster who's used to being the boss.  But, as bad as I felt for Curly, I was glad to know that I can butcher an animal I know.  If I had found that I couldn't do it, then I would have to rethink some of my plans for raising my own meat, or at least rethink naming them and anthropomorphizing them like I do.  

So I now have pretty, feminine June, and rough and rowdy Rosie and Egret are no more.  Now that I know for sure that they were roosters (I confirmed this by seeing their tiny testicles, which are inside the body cavity, against the spine), I have some explanation for why Mrs. Hall was so mean to them, and why they weren't very cuddly and were always misbehaving.  Mrs. Hall keeps June in her place too, but not with such ferocity.  

This rooster mix up let me know more about myself too.  I can be on a first name basis with my chicken friends, and still put them in the freezer when the time comes.  Scary, huh?  I wonder if someone should warn my kittens?! 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Autumn Foliage Envy and Pear and Sugar Jam

Did you guys notice how spectacular the sugar maples were this year?  I don't know why they were particularly colorful this fall.  Maybe because unlike the last few years we had enough rain that all the leaves didn't just shrivel up and drop off.  What ever the reason, there are many trees that I drive past every day and never noticed before, but the last few weeks they almost take my breath away with their awesome color!

Is it weird to stand in a strangers yard and take photos of their leaves?  Would it be weird to come back to a strangers yard in the spring and steal seeds from their tree?   

The big tree in my front yard is a silver maple, not a sugar maple.  Even though it makes me feel disloyal, each fall I secretly wish my silver maple, which normally celebrates the end of the summer by turning a dirty brown color, was a golden sugar maple instead (shhh... don't tell). This year though, all my shrubs and trees, including the big silver maple, put on their best show ever, so I had very little fall foliage envy.  My little dogwoods turned bright red, for the first time ever.  I've never had my very own red tree before.

Puck and I frequently admire the fallen yellow and orange silver maple leaves and the way they match his fur.  He looks pretty good in yellow.  

Jamie and I are still working to process all the pears I brought home from the tree at the farm.  While Jamie sliced the pears using one of those apple corer slicer dealy-o's, which cuts an apple or a pear in eight chunks and removed the core, I created my first pear crumble.  I filled the dish with big pear chunks, peel and all, spread old fashioned oats on the top, drizzled on sorghum molasses, and then sprinkled flour and butter that I mixed in the food processor.  I added more drizzles of sorghum, and more butter and baked it all in the oven.  We told our selves that this was health food, since it had home grown organic pears (plus the fibrous peel), fiber in the whole oats, local molasses, einkorn flour, and butter from grass fed cows.  All this healthy junk meant we could eat as much as we wanted, right?  I'm not sure how to justify the ice cream from the gas station that we piled on top though.  

With some of the other pear pieces, I simmered them on the stove until they were soft, and then squished them through my hand crank food mill, which removed the peels.  

In the end, I had over sixteen cups of pear sauce!  It was pretty good just plain, or with kiffer, but our ultimate goal was to make pear jam.  

I used the pectin that reacts with calcium water again, so I didn't have to use quite as much sugar as I used to.  Traditional jam recipes are normally half sugar, but this jam is one third sugar.  When I look at a jar of jam now, I imagine the line on the jar where the sugar would be if I removed the fruit.  No wonder jam is so tasty!  The few jams I made without much sugar at all were not big hits with Brandon, who is the primary jam eater and connoisseur, so I tried not to be so conservative with the sugar this time and remind myself that it's a spread, not a side dish. If we ever get better at getting honey from our bees, I would like to switch to honey in our jam instead of sugar.  

In the end, I have twenty-two jars of pear jam.  That's a lot of jam, and we still have more pears!  
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...