Friday, September 30, 2011

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

More tomatoes and the last of the peaches made for a heaping wheelbarrow. And a colorful one, at that!

And we got 2/3 of a bucket of sweet peppers, hot peppers and green beans. And we picked more of those delicious green apples. Beautiful produce that we will enjoy fresh, steamed, canned and dried.

And I've found a great recipe for everyday bread. This Oatmeal Sandwich Bread from Ken Haedrich's Country Baking book is everything it promised to be - soft, stretchy, tasty. You can wrap it around your filling without it breaking or tearing.

And at the moment we have so many good things to drink! Half a gallon of freshly squeezed tomato juice, a half gallon of fresh pressed apple cider, and two gallons of fresh goat milk! And tomorrow I'll be making chevre.

I'm really appreciating how food can be our medicine and our medicine can be our food.

Here's that bread recipe:

Soft Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

From Ken Haedrich’s Country Baking

Makes 2 loaves

“This is about the most ideal sandwich bread I know: wholesome yet soft enough – due to the oats and the yogurt – to wrap around any sandwich without falling apart. Incidentally, the oats will make the dough, even when fully kneaded, a little slack.” –Ken Haedrich

1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
2 cups hot milk
1/3 cup honey or unsulphured molasses
¼ cup lukewarm water
1¼ ounce package (about 1 Tbsp) active dry yeast
1/3 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbsp salt
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
3 – 3 ½ cups unbleached flour
2 Tbsp oats, to sprinkle in the pans

Put the oats in a large mixing bowl and pour the hot milk over them. Stir in the honey or molasses and let cool to body temperature. Meanwhile, put the water in a small bowl and stir in the yeast. Set aside for 5 minutes to dissolve. Once the oats have cooled, stir in the dissolved yeast, the yogurt or buttermilk, and the whole wheat flour and beat vigorously for 1 minute with a wooden spoon. Cover this sponge with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes in a warm, draft-free spot.

Using a wooden spoon*, beat in the egg, salt and butter until well-blended. Add the unbleached flour, ½ cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough is too dense to stir, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, periodically dusting your kneading surface with flour; knead gently at first to prevent the dough from sticking. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it to coat the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside, in a warm, draft-free spot, until the dough is doubled in bulk. Butter two 4 ½ by 8 ½ inch loaf pans and sprinkle the inside of each with about 1 tablespoon of oats.

When the dough has doubled, punch it down, knead briefly, and divide in half. Shape the halves into loaves and place them in the prepared pans. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, preheating the oven to 375 degrees when the loaves appear nearly doubled.
Bake the loaves for approximately 40 minutes, until nicely browned. When done, the bottom crusts should give a hollow retort when tapped with a finger. Cool the loaves on a rack before slicing. Store in sealed plastic bags.

*At this point I put the sponge in the Bosch Universal mixer and proceed through turning the dough into an oiled bowl to rise.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Butchering Day

But you probably figured that out when you saw the word "butchering"

The chickens we've been raising on pasture in a chicken tractor have reached maturity and it was time to put them to their intended use.

On Monday we did the first round of chicken butchering. Apparently we had our hopes set a bit high thinking we would process all 47 chickens in one day. We did get 27 of them done. Here is the view of the butchering set-up from the kitchen stoop. Please note the disease-free, fresh air setup. This is a much cleaner environment for butchering than an enclosed facility that has been used repeatedly to butcher animals. IMHO.

The blue tote holds a couple birds in a quiet, dark place to keep them calm. The silver funnel is the killing cone. The stove and pot is used to scald the chickens. The other side of the table is ready for the plucking and dressing of the birds. Then into the ice water in the cooler for a quick chilling.

Kent is checking the water - too hot and the skin will tear when you pluck. Not hot enough and the feathers won't come out as easily.
Here's where I will pluck and throw the feathers in the wheelbarrow.

And then I'll hand them off to Kent and he'll dress them, reserving the heart, feet and livers for cooking, as well.

One of the many advantages of raising and butchering your own meat is knowing that the animal has been treated with respect and kindness during its admittedly short life and that their death will be quick and as painless as possible.

Their distress is limited to the time when they are place in the cone until their head is cut off. Measured in seconds.

No pictures of me plucking but here's Kent dressing a bird. He got quite good at this after the first several.

Then into the ice water.

I then took 3 or 4 at a time into the house for a final feather inspection under a bright light, another rinse, Then bagged in a plastic zip-style bag and wrapped in freezer paper. Weighed, marked and put in the freezer.

There are months of great eating here. We processed 27 birds for a total of 156 pounds of dressed chicken. Considering it's pasture-raised, organic chicken, Iestimate the street value to be $750 or more. And there are 20 more chickens yet to butcher. Another ~120 pounds of dressed chicken and a value of $600 or more. It's a pretty good return on our investment of $200 or so for chicks and feed and the money in lumber to build the re-usable chicken tractor. And tending to them a couple of times a day.

I know that some people will consider this a cruel practice but I would argue that it is a responsible and compassionate practice if you intend to be an omnivore and cannot afford to purchase humanely raised organic meat at the store. And we will be so much more careful to appreciate the meat we eat and not let any go to waste.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Critter Care and a Garden Check

That's how our day typically begins. We head out first thing in the morning to take care of animals and see what we might need to harvest from the garden (or under the trees) that day. This day found us picking up windfall apples to share with the cows. They love apples and fresh cornstalks that we pull up from the garden each day. I find myself bracing when Grady comes running at me for the cornstalks. And he's only partly grown. I'm sure it will be quite a sight when he's a full grown steer.
We had so many apples in the wheel barrow that Kent was able to make a few piles of them where he anticipated moving them in the next several days.
And of course there's the Brain Trust. Here are the meat chickens in their tractor. They toddle around eating grass and bugs in addition to their feed rations. I've mentioned before that I don't find the Cornish X birds very interesting. So much of their chicken-ness has been bred out of them. But these birds do simulate many typical bird behaviors. I think raising them on pasture is the best possible scenario for them.
And do they ever leave a path of destruction. you can see the "scorched earth" behind the tractor as it makes its way along the grass. But within a few weeks, the grasses grow back thicker and more lush than before. Yay for chicken poo!
The Think Tank is actually a hopping place to visit. The turkeys are smart and inquisitive birds. I find I'm quite fond of them as a species. And I've named each and every one of them... Tom.
They carry on like chickens, though, when you pick them up. You'd think the sky was falling.
I like to do my best turkey call and watch them get their dander up. They started doing the wing-dragging, chest puffing, tail spreading show when they were just getting feathered out. They make me smile every time.
How do your eggs come? Ours come in a box...
Much of the garden is waning. In fact, so much of it was too depressing to photograph. Drying squash vines. Shriveled peas. But the vines dying off has reveals the squash I couldn't previously see. I counted 10 pie pumpkins yesterday and a dozen or so butternut squash. I'd guess 12-15 spaghetti squash are out there too. I'm looking forward to storing and using them this winter. The tomato plants are doing their best to ripen the tomatoes on them but they, too, are looking like dying back a bit. We picked 6 pecks yesterday and there are many more still on the plants. We've about decided that if it looks like we're due for a frost, we'll pull up the plants and hang them upside down in the cellar. That should provide us with some good tomato pickens for several more weeks.
The basil bed in the foreground here is growing like crazy. For cooking purposes, I can barely make a dent. Mostly what I've been doing is picking the tops off when they look like they want to bloom. I'm going to let them grow until the last possible moment and then I'm going to put up lots of pesto for the freezer.
And the surprise turnips are pretty and tasty. If you look closely I'll bet you can see all their pretty purple tops sticking up out of the ground. I'll probably try to root cellar them for the winter, along with the carrots and potatoes.
And while most of the garden is drying off, there are a few fall beds that we are still looking forward to. here are more turnips, carrots, and green beans. The green beans are starting to bloom and we're still getting beans off the old beds. I hope to do another large canning of green beans from this bed.
So that's a typical morning around here. Then it's in the house to have breakfast and plans the rest of our day, which is usually filled with canning, making parts or, soon, butchering chickens. There's never a dull moment. And still on the list before snow flies is dragging in deadfall and cutting it up for this winter's firewood and building a small structure to house the cows and poultry over the winter. Come on over and we'll put you to work!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Look Up

That's a reminder to myself. I spend so much time looking down at the garden that I need to remember to look up to the sky, too. To the beautiful sky at sunset, when the warm colors make the black silhouettes of the trees into art.
To the clouds backlit by the sun, giving them depths that I could examine until my neck ached.
Driving home with friends from Mindie's house after a day making sauerkraut. My friends notice a rainbow. I find a place to pull over and I'm so excited I take several pictures. And then, as I turn to get back in the car, I see the other end of the rainbow! Brighter than the one that had delighted me!
And I notice where that rainbow ends. It's gold, alright. At least it's likely gold to the folks that call it home. Just as our new home has become to us. A place of solace, refuge, joy, comfort and sharing. I wondered, do they know they have the gold at the end of the rainbow?

Team Smith

The produce continues to pour in. The garden has been a big success for two folks who hadn't had a "real" garden in years. But that also means that there's lots of preserving to be done.

Enter... Team Smith. Yes, Kent has been working on the canning and drying with me and we've become quite the well-oiled machine.

For example, canning tomatoes. Kent washes and scalds the tomatoes.

And puts them into the cold water in the sink to stop the cooking.

I slip the skins and quarter them.

So pretty! So much potential! Summer days ready to capture in glass jars...

When the tomatoes and jars are hot, I fill the jars and add the necessary items, such as salt and citric acid. Kent gets the bubbles out, wipes the rims and adds the lids. We can fill two canners in no time.

Which is good. Because then there's the zucchini to shred, the squash to dry...

And the peaches to prepare for the next canning batch...

Yes, the peaches from our own tree. We're still giddy about that. And they are so sweet and delicious!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Be Prepared Giveaway

Wanted to share a giveaway being hosted by Emergency Essentials. You've seen the link on my sidebar, you've heard me mention them, and now they are giving away a one year supply of food. I'd encourage you to click on the pic above and go on over to the entry site. I know I'm going to!