Friday, January 30, 2015

Gone, but with a purpose

I apologize for my absence from the Blogosphere of late; I have been busy fighting Evil.

I shall return!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Where's the Beef? (Not here)

I made hamburger patties a few days ago:

I stuck them in the broiler (too lazy to start up a fire in the grill), filled our plates up with homemade sweet 'tater fries and homemade coleslaw and jammed those burgers in our maws before the buns touched the plate.

But my hamburger wasn't "Hamburger".  It was a half and half mixture of ground venison and ground pork.  Because there is NO way I'm spending over four freaking bucks for a pound of ground beef, from the grocery store or from the farmer.  Sorry Mr. Local Cattle Dude.  I'm glad you're getting a premium price for your beeves, but you just won't be getting it from me.

Why is beef so freaking expensive?  Texas drought?  Ice & snow?  I suppose the cattle numbers still haven't been able to recover from those events and it's just a classic case of supply and demand.  Or could it be insider cow trader manipulation?  Government conspiracy to increase demand for bison?   Apparently now only the "elites" will get to dine on the carcasses of cattle.

Even though we won't be grilling up many beef-based meals for a while, we won't be missing out on cheeseburgers.  And technically, our hamburgers actually have "ham" in them as we ground up some of the back legs (the "hams") from our hog.

Are you having to make do without beef?  Have you come up with other beef alternatives to use in your cooking?  If you're a cattle grower, how are you doing?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Making a Hut a Home

We currently have........a crapload of goats.  Hold on, let me think about it.

We currently have thirteen goats.  And with the exception of really cold nights when I open up the kidding pens, the only shelter they have is the main entrance of the barn, underneath the barn (which is their preferred hideout), a goat hut we made several years back, three "dogloo" type houses, and the three 55-gallon barrels set up in pyramid fashion (which only the kids and chickens actually use).

So although everyone has the chance to hunker down in a sheltered area during rain and cold snaps, it is not going to be that way come April when the kids start popping out.  We need to either make another shed or lean-to for them, or make more goat huts.  Since our eventual plan is to have the goats moved from area to area during the year, it made more sense to make multiple, smaller, mobile goat huts than to start making larger, permanent shelters in the different areas.  Especially since we're not entirely certain where those areas are going to be or how they will be fenced off.

Since the weather was so warm and beautiful this weekend, we got a building bug up our butts and started another goat hut.  It all begins with a pallet and we build on from there.

We've accumulated several pallets over the years as well as odd pieces of lumber, salvaged decking, 1/4 sheets of plywood (thanks, Dad!), irregular sized scraps of tin roofing and other odds 'n ends.  With the exception of a handful of brads, everything that we used to make the new goat hut was recycled, even the nails!

So even though we used some of our homestead building materials inventory, we spent less than a dollar (very high estimate of the cost of the new brads, although we already had them on hand) on the entire project.  And once the weather warms up, I plan on painting it.  With red paint I got for a song a few years back at the "Ooops" section of the local hardware store.

Is this goat hut a little hillbilly looking?  Of course it is.  Is this goat hut going to be featured on Martha Steward's "Small Scale Farming"?  Of course it isn't.  But I don't think the goats care.  In fact, when Paul used the tractor to place the new hut in the goat yard, there was a rush to see who would get inside first:

Don't get me wrong.  I've seen several goat houses and chicken coops featured on blogs or on pinterest that look totally awesome.  And I suppose if we spent a little more time and expended a little more effort on this project, it could have looked much more charming:

But we only spent four hours on it.  And it didn't cost us squat.  And the goats are just going to crap all over it anyhow.  So I'm calling it good.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Unseasonable, but not Unwelcome, Weather

Yesterday the high was 62.  Today was 65.  Sixty. Five. Degrees.  In the middle of January.

Yep.  I'll take that.

Yes, I know that we'll pay for it in the number of new bugs.  Yes, I know that it may wreak havoc on some of the plants and trees.  Yes, I know it is just weird.  But I don't care.  Call it Global Warming.  Call it Climate Change.  I don't give a shit if polar bears are sweating or if the glaciers are melting or if our seaboards will be under ten feet of water.  I'm tired of this cold winter stuff and will gladly take any "freakish" turn of warm weather with a smile (remind me of this sometime in, say August, when I'm bitching about how flipping hot it is).

The warm weather just makes me want to DO stuff.  Outside stuff.  Even if it's not necessarily "fun" outside stuff, just being out there in a t-shirt makes even the lowly job of shoveling chicken crap a joyous event.

I cleaned out the coop (which really, really needed it), I started cleaning the milk parlor.  Paul put a light in the chicken coop.  I moved wasted hay out of the goat pen.  And in between barn chores, we played frisbee, went for a walk, ate the remaining persimmons, played with the Giant Sloppy Dog.

We also started a new goat hut for the ingrates.  Kidding season will be coming up soon and we'll need as many spots for mother goats and their kids as we can manage.  Although I like the idea of another shed or lean-to for them, we eventually plan on moving the goats from pasture to pasture and several mobile huts seem to be more feasible.  That and the fact that we need to use some of the salvaged lumber I've accumulated over the years before it rots or the termites eat it.

Goat hut pictures tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Non-Traditional Living Room Decor

About nine weeks ago we butchered our hog.  It wasn't a walk in the park, but it wasn't that difficult either.

Since we didn't have a meat saw (an electric one, that is) and didn't want to mess with the sawzall, we just boned the entire carcass.  We had boneless pork chops (i.e. pork loin), tenderloin and lots and lots of ground pork.

We also made our own bacon (go drool over OFG's recent bacon-making while you're at it) and cured our own hams.  Well, technically we are still curing our own hams.  

When we butchered the hog, we boned the hams and I rubbed two of them with Morton's Sugar Cure, let them sit in a zippy-bag for two weeks, rubbed them down again with the cure, then let them sit for another three weeks.  Technically we let the hams sit in the cure longer than suggested, but that's how it happened; if you don't hear from me after I say we tried the hams, I'm probably dead. Two weeks ago we rubbed the cure off the hams, rinsed and soaked them for a few hours, then dried them off and put them back in the fridge sans zippy-bag for "equilibration"...., whatever that means.  

Now all we have to do is dry cure them.  Which basically means wrapping the hams in paper and hanging them some place that's 70-85 degrees.  For up to six months.  Yes.  Six months.  In 70-85 degree temps.   Sounds like a rotted meat disaster just waiting to happen.  But we're going through with it anyhow.

When I took the hams out of the refrigerator, I gave them a good sniffing.  Smelled like meat.  Not, "I just killed this thing and it's still twitching" meat smell, nor a "Wow, did you pick this up in a ditch in the summer time?" kind of smell either.  Just a ham'ish, meat'ish kind of smell.  The outside of the hams were dry, but not crunchy-dry, just tacky.  Now I wish I would have left a thicker layer of fat on them.  Live & learn.
Hunk o' meat that has been in my refrigerator since the beginning
of November.   It is now the middle of January.  And it's not rotted.
Pretty neat, hugh?
Anyways, after wrapping them hams in "Official Cured Ham Wrapping Paper" (i.e. brown paper grocery bags), we stuffed them in old orange "socks" and debated on exactly where we were going to hang these puppies.

I thought of hanging them from the dining room chandelier, but I didn't think the light fixture would have handled the load well.  Maybe under the kitchen cabinets?  Not unless I wanted to have to remove the cats from them every morning.  How about from the living room curtain rods?  Bet Martha Stuart never had Ham finials in her decor.

We finally settled on hanging them from the fireplace mantle, which made perfect sense.  The mantle is a huge honk'n piece of timber and it was high enough that the cats would have to actually exert themselves if they wanted to get to them.  So Paul got some screws and proceeded to screw them into the mantle.  When he was eyeballing where to put the screws I said to him, "Make sure they are centered on the mantle, I don't want it to look weird."  

And he turned around and just stared at me.

Yeah.  We wouldn't want the huge raw chunks of pig flesh to be hanging off-center in front of our fireplace now would we?  Because that would just look.....weird.

So now we just wait.  I doubt we're going to wait the entire six months because I'm worried that they'll dry out too much since they don't have the skin on them and the fact that it's really dry in here.  Winter is dry enough, but we heat with wood and it only averages between 40 - 45% humidity in the house.  Great for zapping people with static electricity, not so great for hanging hams.  I'm going to shoot for a two month hanging period.  

Or until we get hungry and open up those puppies and fry them up.

Or until the cats manage to yank them down and eat them during the night.

Or until my Mom can't stand it any longer and makes me take them down.

Personally, I'd LOVE to see not only the hams, but an entire row of summer sausages and snack sticks hanging in my living room.  Who wouldn't want their fireplace mantle bedecked with deli deliciousness?!  Now that would be some yummy decor!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Working out the kinks

Here's what my bread looked like just five minutes after I put it in the oven:

Granted, it's my fault for not waiting until the oven was preheated.  Because apparently my new, wonderful, amazing double oven has heating elements on both the top and bottom...on both ovens.

I'm assuming that during the pre-heating period, both the top and bottom elements are used in order to get the oven up to temperature more quickly.  So I guess that from now on I'll have to actually wait to put stuff in there until after the pre-heating period.  Which is going to be tough as I'm not exactly the most patient person in the world.

So I waited for the pre-heating cycle to finish then popped the breads back in with a tinfoil cover over them.  I wasn't going to let a little charred bread discourage me from having this for breakfast:
Don't kid yourself, that wasn't the only piece I had.
I've also noticed that my cookies, quiche and bread sticks are cooking faster.  I put an oven thermometer in there to see if the temps jived, but it was actually showing almost ten degrees cooler than what the oven digital display said.  Maybe it has something to do with the size of the oven cavity?  The older stove's single-oven cavity was larger so I'm wondering if the new smaller size is causing the heating differences.  I'm not yet sure if there's some way to adjust this, or if I just have to remember to keep things 10 degrees cooler when I cook / bake things.

So I'm still working out the kinks, but I'm still pretty darned pleased with my new oven.

Now if we could just get the counter tops and back splash finished.........

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Well, the rooster is still alive

Just heard one of the roosters crowing.

I haven't checked on the rest of the outdoor animals yet though.  It's a nippy 2 degrees right now and other than dashing out onto the front porch to grab some wood for the stove,  I don't yet have the will to bundle up and go outside to see if anyone has frozen to the ground.  As soon as day breaks I'll put on my overalls, parka, wool socks, snow boots, ear muffs, woollen cap, ski mask and scarf and waddle out to the barn, probably  looking like Randy from "A Christmas Story".

Of course, things could be worse.  I could still be living back in Illinois.  It's currently -9.8 without the windchill at my sister's place.  Sucks for you, Christine.

I fondly remember the winter weekday mornings, having to wake up at least an hour earlier to shovel the driveway.  Hoping that I remembered to plug in the truck the night before so it would crank over.  Driving the hour+ commute to work in the snow/slush and counting the number of fender benders or vehicles in the ditches while I could still see my breath inside the cab of the truck because the engine didn't heat up enough until half way through the drive.  Even when at work, in the confines of my toasty office, supplemented with warmth provided by one of those portable heaters, I couldn't get the chill out of my bones.  The drive home may or may not have been less hazardous, but rest assured, I would be greeted by a now-frozen three foot wave of snow/ice at the driveway entrance from the plow trucks going by during the day.

Ahhhh, the good old days.   Thankfully they are a distant memory.

And for those of you who still have to commute to & from work every day in this shit wintry mix?  I'm sorry.  I really, really am.

Although I'm no longer required to brave the icy highways and snow drifts every weekday morning, I still have a winter routine:

Start kettle for hot tea.  Fill 5-gallon bucket with warm water.  Bundle up (see previous description).  Open door to the bitter cold.  Curse the universe for the current axial tilt of the earth.  Carefully walk outside with the 5 gallon bucket of warm water, half of which has sloshed out of the bucket and on to my pant leg.  Enter goat / chicken pen, hoping to see signs of life.  After confirming no one is dead, start whacking at the stock tanks to chip out the ice.  Scatter frozen chunks of chicken feed to the chickens.  Fork over lots & lots of hay for the goats who are rushing you hoping that they will get grain instead.  Grab now empty bucket, go back inside to refill, then trudge out again where there is now a line of goats wanting warm water and will now refuse to drink out of the stock tank.  Sit down at computer and blog about how cold it is while sipping hot tea.

Depending on how cold it is, I'll repeat the above scenario at least two other times.

I guess I shouldn't complain too much.  I really have it better than a lot of people.  I don't have to walk very far to the barn.  We have hot water in the house.  And as Tammy pointed out just this morning on her blog, we have indoor plumbing.  I used to think chamber pots were disgusting, but believe you me, if I had to pee in the middle of the night and it was 2 degrees outside, I'd be using one of those puppies.

So, my fellow frigid bloggers, take care today and through this cold snap.....even if your "cold" is only down to the 40's you bastards.