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.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Canning on a glass top stove

The stove that came with the house is, I'm guessing, about fifteen years old.  It was an Amana glass top electric model and served us well for normal household use, and I even managed to use it for both water bath and pressure canning of many jars of food.

I know, I know.  Everyone says that you're not supposed to can on the glass cook tops because of the weight of the canner.  But I did it for years with no ill effects, although it could have been because I was just a lucky duck.  Even though I was able to successfully bring the canner up to heat / pressure, it did seem to take an long time.  This could have been because my element was on it's way out, or it could have been because the wattage just wasn't enough to keep up the temperature.

I've also noticed that unlike a gas range, which has the flame constantly going, the electric ranges seem to shut on and off, if even for just a few seconds.  I'm not sure if that's a safety thing or a mechanical thing, but it must effect the amount of heat being transferred to the pot.

That's another thing you must have in order to safely and effectively can; a pot with a flat bottom.  I admit, I still use some of my Grandma's Revereware (with it's very noticeable wobble) for cooking, but not for things that I need to get really hot, like jams or candies or when I need to get something to boil quickly.

One of the major selling points of the new stove was the fact that it had 3,000-watt dual element in addition to the standard 2,400-watt large element.  In theory, if I could bring my old 2,400-watt element to work with the pressure canner, the new dual element would work even faster.....and, in theory, still use the other element for a second canner.  If I didn't end up cracking the glass top with all the weight.  And that is, I believe, the major reason that people are hesitant to can on top of their glass top stove.

Although I didn't get as scientific as Yukon Mike does on some of his posts (I won't say anal, but come on, that's what it is, admit it Mike!) I did do some figuring and came up with the weight of a full canner.

I have a Presto 23-quart aluminum pressure canner / cooker.  It weighs exactly 9 pounds.  Three quarts of water (the recommended minimum amount for pressure canning) weighs 6 pounds.  Seven full quart jars with bands & lids (I just filled them with water) weighs 19.25 pounds.  So a full pressure canner weighs....hold on a second.....
I would think most of my readers (sans Christine)
know what this is.  I'm showing our age, aren't I?
....the canner and contents weighs 34.25 pounds.  So is this an acceptable load for the top of my cook stove.  Would it be safe to put both of my canners on the stove?

According to my Whirlpool Electric Double Oven Range manual the "Recommended Use" for the Dual Elements list 1) Large diameter cookware, 2) Large quantities of food, and most importantly 3) Home canning.  There is even a section titled "Home Canning" which states that the canner should be centered on the largest cooking surface or element, and should not extend more than 1/2" beyond the surface cooking area.  Technically, the large element (in addition to the Dual-Element) meets this criteria.  But even though it seems as if I could use both canners on the stove at the same time, I don't know if the glass top can hold close to seventy pounds.

I've read the entire manual and haven't found any weight restrictions for the cooking surface.  I did, however, find a section called "Sabbath Mode".  Apparently there is a setting which conforms to Star-K Jewish Sabbath requirements for baking.  Hmmm.  Who would'a thunk it.  Anyways.....

I'm going to send an email to Whirlpool and see if I can get any information on the load limit for the stove top.  When and if I get a reply, I'll update this post to include it.  And maybe I'll even bake some bagels and try out that "Sabbath Mode" is Sunday, after all.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Goodbye Excess, Hello Restraint

Although we're not one of those families that spend lots of money on superfluous items (because in all honesty, we don't have lots of money to do so), 2014 has caused the family pocketbook to flatten out significantly.  The most recent expense being us finally starting the remodeling of one section of the kitchen.  In October, one of the electric elements on the stove went out.  Paul tried to fix it, but it ended up we'd have to buy a $100+ dollar element....for a fifteen year old stove.

So I did what any other frugal person would do; I limped along without the large element.  First World problems, I know.  It wasn't much more than a minor inconvenience until I realized that we wouldn't be able to use the pressure canner.  Even with the large element functioning, the canner took forever to get up to heat/pressure, and now I didn't even have that.  So Paul did what any loving husband would do.  He told me to pick out a new stove.  I hemmed and hawed about it for a while longer.  I had a hard time justifying paying $500 on a new stove.  And then I eventually caved in and picked one out.  One that was twice as much as I originally complained about.  Yep.  You read that right; we spent a grand on a new stove.  But I managed to justify the additional expense because 1) it has a larger element (3,000 watts vs. the old 2,400 watts),  2) a fifth "warming" element, and my favorite by far, 3) it was a double oven.
I don't blame you if you're jealous.  I'll wake
up in the middle of the night just to gaze upon it.
Yep.  Not one, but TWO ovens in the same convenient (although significantly more costly) package.  I could bake six, SIX! sheet cakes in that baby if I wanted to.  Six pans of lasagna or six pies or six quiches or nine loaves of bread.  All.  At.  Once.  And I could now also cook two different dishes at different temperatures.  And the new range would be able to hold not one, but TWO pressure canners at the same time.  I just cut my pressure canning time in half!  Oh yeah, I also bought myself a second pressure canner two months ago.  I told you we were spending money like it was going out of style.

Now that I've finished gloating over my new stove, let's get back to the 2014 excessive spending spree.  The kitchen remodel not only included a new stove, but a new microwave for above the stove which replaces the one that died, oh, say four years ago.  We also bought an 8' long section of butcher block to replace the counter section by the stove as the laminate was peeling and the edges had long been torn off.  Then we needed some sort of back splash for behind the stove / fridge, so we bought that.  And I almost forgot about the little butcher block / cabinet / moveable island thingy I bought last month.  If I had to sum up the last two months of our finances it would be "Cha-Ching!"

Yes, they were things we've been meaning to buy but kept putting off.  Yes, there are things that we saved some money on like buying a slab of butcher block instead of a custom counter top and using non-conventional back splash material for the wall (pics to follow soon).  But it's hard to ignore the outflow of cash.

So we had a family meeting a few days ago, Rhiannon included, and we talked about how we all needed to find ways to avoid spending money and how we could make better use of the items we already had.  The trips to town would be slashed to save fuel costs.  The freezers and pantry would be utilized more and the grocery store would be visited less.  Eating out would have to be saved for a special occasion (not because I was lazy, was in town, and the "Hot Pizza" caused my vehicle to turn into the parking lot).  And if you think about it, these are things we should have been doing all along anyhow, but have strayed from the path of frugalness.

I'm not going to call this our New Year's Resolution, or make it into a challenge like the "No Spend Month" we tried to do on occasion.  It will just be our S.O.P. for a while, and that's just fine.

Besides, good things can come from squeezing everything you can out of something. Today's brunch was a prime (and yummy) example:
Ham, cheese & onion quiche utilizing a hunk of leftover ham.
After pressing out the crust for the quiche, there were two small balls of dough left.  I had Rhiannon roll them out, sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, cut up an overripe apple and made little apple pies:

So instead of tossing the dough and apple to the chickens, we got a mini-dessert out of it!  Can't beat that with a stick :)